The young are so helpful. Chow, Baby’s teenage nieces, for example, are always willing to point out how uncool and out of touch I am. Sadly, instead of sending me to the latest chic dive, their comments only drove me deeper into comfort-food territory.
Actually, it was hip territory. The Near Southside has become the it place to eat in this town, with new restaurants opening all the time. As good as some of the newbies are, though, nothing has come along to replace the Old Neighborhood Grill (1633 Park Place Ave.). The mom-and-pop eatery just keeps pumping out great comfort food at reasonable prices to scores of regulars. It fills the same niche as The Paris Coffee Shop (700 W. Magnolia Ave.), but the Grill’s menu is head and shoulders above that of Paris.
The place is set in an unremarkable line of shops on the less trendy side of the ’hood. A sign out front simply reads “Eat” — wonderful understatement, so post-postmodern. Inside, the atmosphere is homey and comfortable, with red brick walls and family photos — but in, you know, an ironic way.
The service was very friendly, which probably knocks off some “hip” points. Like I care. My guest and I were greeted by a trainee who acquitted herself nicely. Both she and her trainer were quick with jokes and quips. It’s a walk-up counter service, and the vast menu is crammed onto a chalkboard that’s barely legible because the writing is so small.
Whipping out a magnifying glass (the young’uns would have passed out) to read the menu, I opted for the pot roast ($8.95), served with carrots and potatoes. Because I can’t get enough starch in my diet, I also ordered mashed potatoes on the side, as well as pickled tomatoes, which were zesty. The pot roast fell apart at the end of my fork and was bursting with flavor. The roast juice was luscious and salty, though not overpowering. The chicken-fried steak was big, but not in a ridiculous carnival sideshow kind of way. The batter was crispy, the meat tender, and the cream gravy peppery and rich. The accompanying fried okra was crispy and bereft of the usual okra slime, and the turnip greens were unremarkable, as they tend to be. Sorry, I can’t think of any way to make turnip greens sound trendy.
For dessert, the lemon meringue pie was one of the best I’ve ever had. The meringue completely dissolved upon contact with my tongue. And unlike at many places in the Fort, the coffee at Old Neighborhood Grill is excellent. Great coffee — the ultimate cool!
I didn’t take the nieces, though. They probably would have ordered burgers and drowned them in ketchup. They are so embarrassing.
Contact Chow, Baby at email@example.com