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Landmark Restaurant, 809 West Main, Mesa, 962-4652. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Do you ever get tired of rich French sauces? Do you recoil from spicy Szechuan cuisine? Do Indian curries turn you off, green corn tamales bore you and pasta dishes leave you limp as yesterday's fettuccine?
Don't you sometimes long for good old, basic, hearty American fare? Pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn relish, roasted chicken and slabs of meat?
809 W. Main St.
Mesa, AZ 85201
So I set out for Mesa's Landmark Restaurant feeling a bit like the eunuch on the way to the harem: I knew I was supposed to enjoy the evening, but I couldn't quite figure out why.
Housed in an old Mormon church (on Main Street, of course), Landmark looks like a Norman Rockwell picture come to life. It's neat as a pin, with homey floral wallpaper and carpeting. Old-fashioned tureens, pots and vases line the walls. Heavy, wooden breakfronts and chests give the dining room the air of a charming rustic inn, while high-wattage chandeliers and background classical music provide a touch of elegance.
It's the kind of place where young ladies sport flowers pinned to their dresses, older gentlemen call their wives "Mother," smiling waitresses fuss over you and Gallo dominates the small wine list.
On a recent Saturday night, the place was packed by 5:30. Not least among the attractions is the huge salad bar, occupying an entire room, which comes with all dinners.
Passing up some usual dreadful salad-bar suspects--mushy, tiny shrimp, tasteless cheese cubes, cafeteria coleslaw--we zeroed in on some exceptional offerings. I still don't know my limits when it comes to artichoke hearts and hearts of palm, but I'm sure I approached it. Pickled-herring fillets and tiny quail eggs don't regularly turn up on too many Valley salad bars. And the standard items, from thick vegetable soup and boneless barbecue chicken to hot dogs and beans and warm, German potato salad, renewed our belief in a kinder, gentler, tastier America. Lest the flavors of the salad bar interfere with enjoyment of the entree, Landmark passes out lemon sherbet to perplexed patrons. "What's this?" every table around us demanded. "It's supposed to cleanse your palate," our waitress chanted, but she was obviously skeptical. I got the impression that she would no more serve sherbet between courses in her own home than marijuana brownies.
The main dishes, for the most part, are as homebred as a John Philip Sousa march. Needless to say, there's not a foreign word, or even an accent mark, anywhere on the menu. But there's plenty to please the meat-and-potatoes crowd.
A nine-ounce hunk of prime rib, unadorned except by its own juices, came perfectly cooked as ordered, medium rare. No fancy sauce or complex arrangement of seasonings got in the way of the deep, beefy flavor. Happily, it was meltingly tender, not a bit tough or stringy.
And after a few bites of a double-thick, juicy, center-cut pork chop, stuffed with outstanding corn bread and apple dressing, I realized this is where Landmark excels: good, simple food, simply and properly prepared. It can be as satisfying in its own way as any complex dish.
But steer clear when the kitchen tries to get fancy.
Case in point: artichoke chicken. It was almost impossible to plow through the thick chicken breast and dense choke and cheese filling, all topped off with a heavy cream sauce. This bird dish never got off the ground--how could it, weighed down as it was?
Our meals came with ample side dishes. French-fried potatoes arrived thin, crisp and hot. Rice had an Oriental touch, though it was a bit salty. But contrary to all my expectations, there was no joy in spudville: The flavorless mashed potatoes struck out. Nor did the unpleasant, ladled-on brown gravy do much to help. And about the mixed vegetables, the best one can say is at least they weren't cooked to a mushy pulp.
Desserts are homemade and worth the extra 30 minutes you'll have to spend on the exercise bicycle. Landmark pie combines a chocolate cookie crust with vanilla ice cream, then adds swirls of fudge sauce, toasted almonds and whipped cream. Almost as good is a rich, New York-style cheesecake.
The members of the Landmark staff--the woman who takes your name, the hostess who calls you, the servers--are unfailingly polite, perky and professional. Our waitress asked us how we wanted her to pace the meal, and allowed lots of time between salad bar and main dishes, as we requested. She refilled soft-drink glasses without being summoned. And I saw her decide against serving me coffee that had been sitting around a while, opting instead to fetch a steaming fresh brew.
With full meals priced between $10 and $15, Landmark is also a real value. Next time the urge for Grammy Hall cuisine in a Saturday Evening Post setting hits you, go east, and arrive hungry. 40th Street Grill, 5040 North 40th Street, Phoenix, 957-3552. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.