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Published: Friday, 8/24/2001

Wilson's Steak House: East Side diners know of this place

Are the Docks considered East Side restaurants? Lots of people, East Siders included, say no, the Real Seafood, Tango's, and their neighbors are in the downtown-dining category.

What does that leave to the side of town that labors under an inferiority complex? The Cousinos folded the Cafe Chez Vin, a classy restaurant that drew customers not only from the East Side, but from all over, and what remains are Wilson's Steak House, Cousino's Steakhouse - which calls itself “the East Toledo Eatery” - and of course, the Tony Packo's motherhouse.

Tony Packo's is a case apart, a wonderful novelty, a must on the itineraries of out-of-town guests, but not the place for a sedate, sit-down dinner. The Cousino survivor turns out great steaks, but it's a peculiarly East Side restaurant, and you don't see many faces from over the Maumee in the line waiting for a weekend table.

That leaves only Wilson's, which seems to be widely unknown beyond the far reaches of Oregon, if my casual queries are a reliable clue to the restaurant radar of Toledoans.

Wilson's is in the building that used to be the home of the Ritz Supper Club, where many of us would go for the area's best chicken paprikash and other Hungarian goodies. A roadside sign catches the attention of the hungry motorist on South Lallendorf Road between Starr and Navarre avenues. You need look at only the west side of the road, because the densely forested Pearson Metropark occupies the entire block on the far side.

The Wilson's menu offers a good many choices. There are 11 appetizers, none very imaginative, and I counted a startling 26 entrees. A potato casserole might be called a signature item. Soft and shot through with very thin slices of onion, it is tasty but doesn't have anything of a characteristic potato texture under its crust. It's almost soupy.

Instead of potatoes in any form one evening, I asked for the vegetable of the day, and was glad I did, rewarded with a dish of delightful, perfectly prepared bite-sized green beans. Someone in the kitchen has a real instinct for vegetables.

Entrees, too, were a lesson in a similar yes/no contrast. The first of three house specialties is prime rib (the others are chicken paprikash, a nod to the past, and pan-fried chicken livers), and that's what appealed to me one evening, medium rare, please. Deep-rooted in my experience of eating out is a conviction that it is a mistake to order anything ambitious that is carried on the menu but isn't in general demand. I couldn't honestly say that my hearty slab of prime rib was rare, medium rare, even medium; it was a tired-looking, gray piece of beef. Admittedly, it could have been an exception, for any number of innocent reasons, but I can't recommend the prime rib.

By contrast, my eye, sliding down the entrees on the beef list, caught what sounded like a veal scallopini, sliced thin, pan sauteed, under a mushroom sauce; yes! It was all one could have wished, call it scallopini or simply thin-sliced veal. The slices were thin, not overcooked (though the kitchen is distinctly unhurried), and complemented by the sauce. Incidentally, the server noted that this entree was also on the chalk-board list of daily features; it's close to the hostess station, and you don't want to overlook it.

There is a small service bar, fairly well stocked except for wines. Nonsmokers have a spacious room to themselves, though I've yet to see any customers there. There is ample parking aside and behind the restaurant.

NOTES ON THE LOCAL DINING SCENE:

It was J. D. Wesley's Bistro, now it's Winfield's, Joey Skaff's newest enterprise, at 5333 Monroe St. An impressive menu and appointments make reservations a must: 419-885-0101.

John D. Wesley, by the way, was recently named executive chef for both Mancy's restaurants.

Contrary to rumors that surfaced last week, Diva is very much in business.

At long last, the Rose and Thistle, 203 Louisiana Ave., Perrysburg, is open for business, serving dinners Tuesday-Saturday. Reservations required: 419-874-3947.



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