Saturday, June 12, 2010

Christmas Diner

Mike's Penn Ave Grille
599 East State Street
Salem, Ohio 44460
December 26, 2009
7ish pm

Since Erik and I have been together we always have a whirlwind Christmas week of traveling from Columbus, to Cincinnati, back to Columbus for a quick pit stop of picking up gifts, and then on to the small town of Salem, Ohio.  While this results in a fairly boring trek across the great state of Ohio, it's so wonderful to get to see each family and have some different experiences in small town America.

Once the whole crew made it to Salem we decided we needed a place to relax and catch up.  Mike's Penn Ave Grille is a long time favorite of my parents-in law, so that's where it was decided to go! 
This place definitely has a home town feel.  You feel like everyone should know one another and greet each other as they walk in the door.  You definitely get the feeling you are walking back in time a bit; but I loved the character and familiar feel of the place.  You also get the impression that this place has a few stories to tell.  I can just imagine families and various sports teams spilling into the place to celebrate a big Salem win.  We all fit into one very large booth and the family was pleased with the personal TV that allowed them to keep at least one eye on the Pittsburgh Panthers. 
Our server was very friendly and shared that she loved the food here so much she just decided to work here!  High praise indeed. 

We were hungry from our drive and immediately put in and order for drinks and appetizers.  We opted for the sauerkraut balls.  A number of family members had never heard of such things, and being a favorite of ours at Barley's, we just had to show everyone what they were missing.  These balls came with a generous 8 to an order, were perfectly fried, and had a very nice spicy kick to them and to the dipping sauce they were served with.  Always enjoying a good spiciness to my food, I was pleased. 
I paired this with a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat for myself.  I enjoyed the strong cherry smell, but then there was just a hint of the cherry flavor in the background of the beer.  I must say I really enjoyed this beer!   The majority of the crew shared pitchers of Great Lakes Christmas Ale, which was a bit too dark and strong for my liking.  However, the family didn't seem to mind (but this could have been partly due to the high 7.5% alcohol content)! 

As for the entrees, most came with a side salad.  For the salad I chose to go with their homemade dressing of a Gorgonzola vinaigrette, which was outstanding. This was a very good salad with big croutons that seemed to be homemade, real bacon bits, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and chopped eggs. Definitely my kind of salad.  I liked the dressing so much that I may have to attempt a version myself at home.
As for my entree choice I opted for chicken and fettuccine in a Gorgonzola cream sauce with asparagus and mushrooms.  The dish sounded quite divine, and overall it was okay, but not great.  The chicken was cooked nicely, but the asparagus was overcooked and bordered on mushy.  The sauce was good in small a doses and the Gorgonzola gave the sauce a nice bit of flavor, but it was just too heavy for my preference overall.  
My mother-in-law has always talked about the good quality of the restaurant's red meats and I'm thinking I should have listened to her!  She chose the 8 oz strip steak with shrimp.  I sampled a bit and I would agree that this was very good (and made me a bit sad about my entree choice).  The seasoning was flavorful, but not overdone and the meat was cooked to medium rare perfection.  She told me they use Chef Paul Prudhohomme's Magic Seasoning Blends which I had never heard of, but now recognize after going to the website!  I just might have to buy some to try out myself. 
My husband chose the sole with caramelized onions and garlic.  It had a nice mild flavor, and was not overly fishy. 

My nephew chose 12 hot wings and in his opinion they were definitely not hot enough.  However, he did inform us that he has had the second hottest sauce at a various wing joint where he had to sign a waiver before trying them!  He thought that may interfere with his preferences :)  However, I would have to agree that the wings were not very hot and were definitely overcooked and I have yet to try anything that required me to sign a waiver!  These were definitely not a favorite for my nephew, the wing connoisseur, or me!  
My father-in-law and brother-in-law both opted for a small steak salad.  They both felt the steak was very good and tender.   They loved the addition of steak fries on top and egg throughout.  It was topped with a great vinaigrette that was also made from scratch. 
And last, but definitely not least, my sister-in-law ordered Mike's mixed greens salad.  This looked like a spring mix of various greens topped with black olives, Swiss cheese, and Gorgonzola.  The dressing seemed to be similar to a mix between a traditional balsamic vinaigrette with touches of Caesar salad flavors .  Overall, my sister-in-law said she wasn't sure that all the flavors were going to work together, but they did end up blending together in a fun and interesting way.
Bill total:  $144.86 (2 pitchers of Great Lakes, 1 Cherry Wheat, 2 appetizers, and 6 entrees)

Overall Rating:  3 buckeyes (I'd say a lot of the food is good, but some of it is definitely hit or miss.  Definitely go with the steaks and salads, but other options seem to be more of a gamble). 
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