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Published: Friday, 7/11/2003

Restaurant review: Wayward Inn **

In a world that grows ever smaller, thanks to convenient global travel and communications, a chef with the basic skills, a well-equipped kitchen, and a shelf of cookbooks can turn out plausible versions of varied ethnic dishes.

Recall for a moment that even though the proprietor of the Surf, the venerable south Toledo institution, and a succession of apprentice chefs were, I was once told, Chinese, the menu listed but a handful of Chinese dishes. The Surf was distinctly a Midwest American steakhouse. Much the same could be said of the popular old Colony Restaurant. Out Summit Street, in the building that once housed the Northwood Inn and is now Fritz & Alfredo's, an Irish chef presides over a kitchen that serves Tex-Mex and German specialties such as burritos and rouladen.

But there's a distinctive twist to the Wayward Inn's partnerships. Unlike the dual menus offered by the old Surf and Eddie Lee's, the Wayward Inn serves a wide variety of Chinese choices and a token handful of “American Dinners.” Yet this Chinese eatery thrives, as it has for years, in the middle of an ethnic community not notably cosmopolitan in outlook, nor altogether out of touch with its Middle-European roots.

The Wayward Inn's evenings, especially on weekends (when there's a choice between a reservation or a wait) are lively testimony to the contemporary American's taste for Chinese food. In addition to 27 chef's specialties, featuring several shrimp entrees and lesser numbers of pork, chicken, and beef, the list of a customer's more particular preferences is close to 100.

The “American Dinners” noted above are nine entrees, including steak, veal, pork chops, chicken breast, scallops, and lake perch. But the cook's touch is Oriental. I had the skinless, boneless breast of chicken one evening, battered as advertised, but heavily, so that it was the crisp shell from what seemed clearly deep-frying; the Chinese kitchen aims to do even its western cooking as rapidly as its stir fries.

Another different and not too successful touch was a bed of chilled shredded lettuce on which the meat rested.

You're likely to be more pleased with one of the typical Chinese dishes: a bowl of white rice (I like to splash soy sauce over it), vegetables cooked together in a thick, piquant gravy, and bits of the meat, deep fried and added separately. One evening I opted for a garlic chicken dinner. The garlic was not overwhelming - the menu warns the guest which dishes are very spicy - and the garnishings of the chicken - all white meat - included baby broccoli, cut-up green pepper, onion, carrots, and celery in an agreeable harmony.

That evening an appetizer of steamed wontons looked promising, but they were loosely organized - perhaps too many hours or days in the fridge - and came apart so as to make them difficult to eat.

There are long discussions about wine that is compatible with Oriental cuisine, and wine lists tend to be brief or nonexistent. At the Wayward, two light, pleasant French wines, very reasonably priced, were a nice surprise, as was a California dessert wine drink.

It was my impression that the curious collection of Disney art is less in evidence than in the past. The dining room itself, with its bar, is behind a room screen, though a bit boisterous. I'm sure many customers find the room cozy and enjoy it often; it would take me some time for that.

There is ample parking around the restaurant and the other buildings that seem related; the entry is off Schreier Road and around a corkscrew turn off Lime City Road about a half-mile south of Superior Street in Rossford.



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