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Published: Friday, 4/26/2002

Connie's JR's Restaurant: Shopping area hides an institution

Connie's JR's Restaurant & Lounge is very small with a very long name. But there's a good reason for that. When the restaurant came into the hands of Connie Stubleski, she recognized that she had bought, not just a business, but a valuable name and reputation, as well.

JR's was the name when Dick Skaff - an outstanding restaurateur, the last of his generation in a noted family - bought the business several years ago. He turned it into an institution: hospitable, respectable, serving very good meals from noon until late in the evening. It remains an institution for scores of long-time customers, and its decor, menu, and hours are largely unchanged.

One change is notable, and attractive to many health-conscious customers: the salad menu. I can't think of another local restaurant that offers the salad-hungry so many varied choices: nearly a dozen, with almost as many dressings.

Seafood Louie, a shrimp and scallop plate with hard-boiled egg on a bed of lettuce, with a distinctive dressing that makes this special, has been on the menu for as long as I can remember. Though it's always a temptation, I find it too rich for frequent consumption, and my lunch-hour choice is usually a simple tuna with french dressing rather than the seasoned mayonnaise topping the kitchen prefers.

One cautionary note: The small-salad alternatives - caesar, chef's, or Greek - are quite generous; the large, huge.

That's true of appetizers, too, some of which easily count as light lunches. Such is my all-time favorite: shrimp serenade. It's simple, but tasty, with 10 or 12 medium shrimp lightly saut ed in butter, garlic, and white wine with a dash of lemon and served on points of toast.

Following that are other shrimp appetizers, classic cocktail, and two deep-fried presentations, bacon-wrapped or rolled in coconut. Moving with the times, shrimp nachos, a small serving of fet- tucine - with or without bites of seafood - potato skins, and onion rings have been added to the list. All this is in addition to french onion soup and a daily special soup.

Originally, it seems to me, Dick Skaff's first menu offered just a few entrees and subsequently grew only slowly. This is the one menu area that has been enlarged, with divisions of beef, chicken, and seafood, and specialties of the house.

Leading the list of beef is a center-cut sirloin filet wrapped in bacon and served with a ladle of b arnaise sauce. Then, in addition to a filet mignon and a New York strip in two sizes, there are four other tenderloin presentations. One comes cooked on a kabob spit and served with attendant vegetables on a bed of rice; another is an open-face sandwich, just the right size for a late supper without keeping you awake.

The sandwich and the two remaining presentations feature three-ounce tenderloin slices. A whiskey-peppercorn sauce would, I imagine, impart a certain character to the meat, one I've never hankered for. The steak Diane is something else again, advertised as the “#1 house specialty.” Saut ed with dijon mustard, cracked peppers, mushrooms, onions, and a splash of brandy, all awash in a thick brown gravy, it works a triumph of harmony and balance over the diversity of ingredients.

One specialty I'd love, were it not for the dire cholesterol warnings associated with liver, is that old favorite of a simpler time, liver and onions, say with a side of mushrooms on top.

Pan-fried lamb chops and pork chops are side by side on the menu, if not on a plate, and a fourth specialty of the house is fettuccine with vegetables and seasoning in a marinara sauce. For an extra charge it can be had with chicken or shrimp.

A champagne sauce is a light touch, more so than soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or marsala wine sauce, in which to saut a boneless breast of chicken, and I have preferred it for a good many years. There's also a grilled chicken sandwich that's just the right size for lunch. But the thrust of the entree menu is really beef, and I rarely think of fish at JR's, even though the kitchen has on occasion done a filet of pickerel expertly.&tab;

Dessert? It's not a big item, but a white-chocolate, raspberry cheesecake clearly makes up for whatever might be missing.

You may want to note that there is not a no-smoking section, even though fewer and fewer diners smoke, and the ventilation is efficient.

Going by the street address, 4330 West Central Ave., it requires a sharp eye to locate Connie's JR's, because it's buried deep in a strip shopping center on the northwest corner of the Talmadge Road intersection. The principal entrance is on the far side of the building, and there is parking front and back, with entrances off both Central and Talmadge.



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