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Published: Friday, 6/11/2004

Restaurant review: Eddie Lee's ****

If you've ever stepped foot inside Eddie Lee's restaurant, even if it's been weeks or months ago, chances are that on your next visit, Willie Lee will greet you by name.

While his two brothers man the kitchen, Willie Lee presents the public face of Eddie Lee's, a West Toledo eatery that draws scads of loyal customers seven times a week.

Upon entering, you're likely to see Willie standing at the crowded reception desk juggling reservations, clapping old friends on the shoulder, and apparently committing to memory the name of every new customer vying for a table.

It's an amazing gift that, combined with the beef, seafood, chicken, pork, ham, and other American food on the menu, helps explains why Eddie Lee's enjoys so much repeat business.

Willie and his siblings are the sons of Eddie Lee, whom old-timers will remember as the owner of the late, lamented Colony restaurant in the Colony, West Toledo's first shopping center way back when.

Eddie Lee died in 1999 at the age of 91; a plaque of remembrance from his employees

hangs in the vestibule. The restaurant's tradition of reliable service and good food continues in his name, and by the looks of the waiting list, things seem to be going swimmingly well, with plenty of customers old and new.

Located inconspicuously along Nantucket Drive, across from the Market Square shopping center on the south side of Monroe Street, Eddie Lee's seems locked in a time capsule. The interior is fairly ordinary and well-lighted, with a main dining room of tables, a narrow strip of booths, and a bar in the rear - unchanged and unchanging.

The same goes for the food. A no-nonsense menu puts the emphasis on seafood, ranging from king crab and lobster tails to fresh Lake Superior whitefish, as well as several cuts of steak cooked to order.

The dinners, by the way, come with all the fixings.

But the piece de resistance on a recent Saturday visit was

the medium rare prime rib, which the restaurant boasts, perhaps rightfully so, to be Toledo's finest.

We ordered the eight-ounce petite cut ($10.95) with salad and potato, but after one meltingly tender bite, we knew we'd made a mistake: Why didn't we go for the 14-ounce cut at $14.95, or better yet, the 20-ounce cut at $18.95? It's that good.

In the shadow of such excellence, our table generally enjoyed the other choices, with some exceptions. The Norwegian salmon ($15) was a tad on the dry side, and the au gratin potatoes were mushy. The French-fried tomatoes ($4.25), ripe red under a crunchy exterior, were delicious but very hot to the tongue - let them cool before diving in.

What we liked, in addition to the prime rib, were the baked French onion soup topped with mozzarella ($2.95); crispy house salads; hearty broiled filet mignon ($18.25 for the petite, $20.95 for a full cut), and chicken fettuccine ($11.75), generously topped with strips of meat and noodles more like lo mein than fettuccine, making the dish lighter and more digestible.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com

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