SECOND HELPINGS

Grill Talk: When I first sampled the fare at Eddie's Grill about a year ago, chef Eddie Matney's New American cuisine really impressed me. A return visit has left me even more impressed. This place is terrific, from breadbasket to dessert, from service to decor. First of all, Eddie's Grill is a good-looking, Saturday-night kind of place. Although it's a big restaurant, several distinctive dining areas provide charm and intimacy. There's a bustling, buzzing main room and outdoor patio, as well as a cozy grotto and clubby room downstairs. Second, Eddie's servers hit just the right note of casual professionalism. We got looked after, but not bothered. Finally, the food is astonishingly inventive. No one will leave Eddie's Grill and complain about eating the same old thing. Matney has done some tinkering with the menu, but wisely left some old favorites alone. Among the appetizers, toasted seafood won tons, set off by a raspberry jalape§o sauce, are irresistible. So is the Mo'Rockin' shrimp, golf-ball-size critters in a spicy beer sauce. The chicken-in-a-blanket starter goes right to the head of the class. It's a mild chicken sausage packed in sage mustard dough, with a nifty, cumin-and-pumpkinseed-spiked sour-cream sauce alongside for dipping. I also enjoyed the grilled eggplant, topped with goat cheese and bits of prosciutto, nestled among three colorful sauces of basil, orange and tomato. The crusty, rosemary- infused white and whole-wheat bread make ideal dipping weapons. Meals come with soup or salad, and the chef, bless his heart, doesn't treat them as afterthoughts. The roasted garlic soup, packed with several rich slices of juicy lamb, is strikingly flavorful. And the salad gets perked up by a zippy, cactus pear dressing. Eddie has resisted tampering with his signature dish, the seared New York sirloin, and we're grateful. It's still a tender strip of beef, encased in mashed potatoes and dusted with Parmesan and Romano cheeses. It's all lightly fried and moistened with a burgundy sauce. And it must have taken superhuman will power not to gussy up the hearty meat loaf, mashed potato and mushroom gravy platter.

That's because with most of the other entrees, the kitchen lets out all the stops. For example, salmon comes brushed with bright red wasabe sauce. It perches on a layer of cappellini, garnished with shiitake mushrooms, which itself perches on a toasted won ton wafer. Or take the beautifully grilled, double-cut pork chop, in a marinade of pineapple, rum and orange. It nests on a delightful, sesame-seed-studded sweet potato pancake, next to a pool of apple and green chile chutney swimming with caramelized pecans. I was sad to see the Whoopie pie dessert has been eighty-sixed. But sweet-toothed diners will still be able to get their fix. Kahl£a-laced bread pudding supports a mound of frozen cappuccino mousse. And the Indian red peach cobbler comes with a tasty pistachio brittle and lip-smacking caramel sauce. Prices are not out of line for what you get. Figure a filling, three-course, no-drink meal for two at about $60, before tax and tip. You can do a lot worse in this town.

Eddie's Grill is at 4747 North Seventh Street. Call 241-1188.

 
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