Rib-Stickers

Europe at Night--what a wonderfully mysterious, seductive name for a restaurant. And as I made my way there, what an image it conjured up: I pictured a dark, smoky cafe, filled with a bright, cosmopolitan crowd babbling in several European tongues. In the background, a zither player would be plucking out the mournful Balkan melodies of the proprietors' homeland. Meanwhile, the steaming scents of native specialties would start kicking my appetite into high gear.

Reality put an end to my reveries. This is no cafe. It's a cavernous, brightly lighted, ornate restaurant, divided into two dining areas, done up in deep, nightclub red: carpets, draperies, vinyl booths, tablecloths. A huge, elaborate crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling of the nonsmoking room. Instead of a zither player with a cigarette dangling from his lip, there's a country-western band strumming old favorites for enthusiastic, two-stepping couples.

About the only ethnic touch is the picture of Nikola Tesla hanging just inside the entrance. He's the Serbian electrical engineer who invented the alternating-current induction motor. "We are proud of him," reads the inscription underneath.

The menu, too, has only a few ethnic touches. This place should probably be called Mesa at Night. That would more accurately describe most of the fare, which leans toward deep-fried appetizers like onion rings and potato skins and all-American entrees like Southern-fried chicken, prime rib and shrimp scampi. However, a few Slavic dishes have managed to push their way onto the list. "We are proud of them" could be inscribed beneath these platters, too.

Meals all come with homemade soups, and every model tastes like someone's mother is back in the kitchen, stirring huge pots with a ladle. Clam chowder isn't exactly an Old World specialty, but Europe at Night puts out a rich, briny version. Navy bean is comforting and filling, while the turkey-dumpling soup clearly has benefited from an actual encounter with a turkey. Fresh biscuits make good soup-dunking material.

Most of the home-country delights--chevaps, pork chops and shish kebab--show up on the Gypsy Platter for Two ($28). But it makes just as much financial sense to order each of them as individual entrees, since they're all under ten bucks in that form.

And, of course, you get more of each when you order that way. That will especially please the lucky person who makes the Yugoslavian chevaps his dinner choice. It's the best dish here: an aromatic mix of seasoned ground beef, pork and lamb shaped into pinky-size pellets and garnished with chopped onions.

I'm not too sure what turns Europe at Night's broiled pork chops into a Gypsy specialty. Maybe they came here on a caravan. Whatever the secret is, it works. The two meaty, juicy chops are worth a trip to Mesa, especially once you factor in the friendly $8.95 tag. They go best teamed with the excellent, thick mashed potatoes, a much better side than the ho-hum French fries.

Compared with the pork chops, the shish kebab isn't nearly as successful. The skewered cubes of beef and pork simply aren't as tender and gristle-free as they ought to be.

For a more satisfying dose of animal protein, come here on a night when the kitchen whips up the roast-lamb special. You get an impressive amount of moist, flavorful chunks of lamb, fragrantly complemented by homemade sauerkraut and scented with bay leaves.

Chicken Kiev is available anytime, and it's done right: a rolled-up chicken breast stuffed with herbed butter. Watch out when you stick your fork in: The butter spurts out just like it's supposed to. A zesty rice pilaf goes well with the poultry.

Desserts come from a supplier, but at least the proprietors chose a good one. Both the German chocolate cake and the walnut cream cake taste as if they came from a bakery, not a cafeteria commissary.

Europe at Night is so far out in the far East Valley that it's practically in the Central time zone. But the place is undeniably comfy, friendly and cheap. That it's also probably the only place on the planet where you can eat chevaps while listening to a country-western trio croon "I Can't Stop Loving You" gives it a certain novelty appeal, as well.

Mueller's Black Forest Inn:
Herring in creamsauce
$4.50
Wiener schnitzel
14.50
Altburger tspfle
14.50
Black Forest cake
3.00

Europe at Night:
Pork chops
$8.95
Chicken Kiev
8.95
Chevaps
9.95
Walnut cream cake
2.

95

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