J. Alexander’s

4077 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062(847) 564-3093redlandsgrill.com

020910  (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post). PALM BEACH GARDENS. Restaurant Review of J. Alexander's Restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

I’m not gonna lie, my fangs were bared and I was full-on ready to pounce all over this place. Shitting on it like something out of a relentless Family Guy sketch. I mean, c’mon, it’s in a Deerfield, IL office park for Pete sake! Your expectations get about as low as a snake in a wagon trail. Not sure where that Ross Perot-ian metaphor just came from, but you catch my drift.

Plus, the moment you walk in, the décor just screams casual dining chain (which it is), the likes of Bennigan’s and Applebee’s. So there I was at the table, seething at how foolish I was for taking the word of the girl at the front desk over at the Hyatt, when suddenly, BAM! BA-BAM! No, not gun shots. That’s the sound my ego makes when I’m wrong.

All three starters were really impressive. My favorite of the three being the deviled eggs with candy bacon and pickled slaw. But so was the smoked salmon salad with crostinis. And, of course, just to spite me, so was the Hyatt recommended fried calamari, which was shockingly tender, with a nice kick in the sauce to boot.

For my entrée I went with the coffee rubbed rib eye, served with a sizable mound of mashed potatoes. And while both were good, this was decidedly the weakest dish of the night. Fortunately, the Prisoner zinfandel I ordered by the glass to go with it was sensational. Making it the third best “Prisoner” I’ve ever experience. The first being sung by the band Squeeze. The second being the movie starring Hugh Jackman, which is technically plural.

For dessert, J. Alexander closed strong with two desserts so massive that after the five of us each took at least two bites apiece, there was still enough left on the plates to be considered a reasonable serving size. But please don’t take the stranded portions as a sign of mediocrity, because both the Key Lime Pie and the Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (pictured) were very on point. We were all just stuffed to the gills by that point.

Sure, it’s a casual dining chain, but in the land of lowered expectations this place stands proud and tall, with the service to match. Take note all of you other chains out there, because this place has cracked the code like Benedict Cumberbatch in The Immitation Game.

4 teeth

 

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Dish

1100 O St. Lincoln, NE 68508 • (402) 475-9475 • dishdowntown.com

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Just blocks from the Cornhuskers’ campus, which basically makes up 25% of Lincoln, you will find a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant. Granted the bar out here is about as low as city’s skyline. And although Dish boasts a horribly dated 80’s décor (sadly not due to theme or sardonic intent) I found myself liking the place.

The largest contribution to the likeage of which I speak came very early on in the form of an Ultimate Cornbread. I guess that’s to be expected in corn country. Served up as crispy cubes of sweet corn and jalapeno, topped with candy bacon. It might just be the greatest thing Lincoln has ever done, including winning the National Title. So wonderfully crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, with spicy and sweet contrasts, I could’ve just done two plates of these and called it a day.

The other appetizer on the table, the scallop bruschetta, was also pretty good, but after tasting that cornbread I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere. That said, it’s much less interesting than it sounds. Basically a thinly sliced disk of scallop placed over a crostini.

Come entrée time, I kinda had my sights missile-locked on something beef related. After all, it’s also cattle county. But strangely enough, the majority of the menu is actually seafood, which is bold for a land-locked state. Regardless, I stayed on target and went with the one meat dish, the filet, which was definitely good, but a bit heavy on the garlic. Granted, when you cut it with the jalapeno drizzle on plate, the result was quite tasty.

The only true misses for me, apart from décor, came during dessert where Dish went a dismal 1 for 4. The flourless chocolate cake with mint ice cream tasted no better than something you might expect to be served in a small town diner guilty of overreaching its capabilities. And the grilled peach trifle wasn’t much better. The truffle trio, however, was a step in the right direction, but that was probably more a dimension of comparative goodness, tasting like a notch above a Whitman’s Sampler.

But the best of the four came as a bit of a shock to be honest. The ginger gelato was creamy and refreshing and palate cleansing, which was much appreciated after three sub par desserts that I only wish I could have also cleansed from my waistline.

3 teeth

Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room

139 7th St. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 281-5700properpittsburgh.com

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Proper indeed. I mean I knew they probably had game when I saw that a Brooklynite had given them five stars on Yelp, but I gotta give mad props to Proper for a slew of killer pies. Not to mention good salads and their candy bacon, which is to die both for and from. We only did take out though, so I can’t speak to the décor or service, but resounding praise is in order for the crust, sauce, toppings and sides.

Starting with the highs of the pies, I’d rank the prosciutto with Turkish figs and feta right at the tippy top, and that’s not just the honorary Turk in me talking. It really was harika (Turkish for “The Best”), so maybe it is the Turk in me talking.

A close second would be the Yelp revered Carnivore made with ample helpings of meat, obviously. But this pie is more about quality than quantity, which is why it was so good. Also, a pie with sausage and pepperoni is normally about as oily as the Exxon Valdez, but not this one. The Carnivore knows how to keep it under control. Respect.

In third I’d go with the Mediterranean pie, made with whole olives (not sliced), artichokes, arugula and feta. It’s like a Greek salad on top of a pizza and it’s, like very good.

And bringing up the rear for me would be the old staple, the Margherita. It’s good, but compared to the other pies, it’s a bit of a snooze. And I’m not just saying that because I’m incapable of appreciating the simple beauty of a Margherita. It’s just that when you distill a pizza down to just sauce, cheese and crust, all three have to be that much more impressive to impress.

But speaking of impressively simply things, Oh Lordy was the candy bacon that and then some. Two boxes of it disappeared no sooner than they hit the table, like dipping a cow in the piranha-infested Amazon River. Which will only make my next sentence laughable, because the salads were actually very good too, but after candy bacon, what are we talking about? Well, what we are talking about is an apple, walnut, dried cranberry and feta salad that far surpassed most pizza joint expectations. In fact, Proper did that handily across the board, and I’m not just saying that because it’s in Pittsburgh… Okay, that’s a flat out lie. I am TOTALLY saying that because it’s in Pittsburgh. Nicely done Proper. Consider me officially stupefied.

4 teeth