Among the array of dishes at Peppercorns in Perrysburg is a classic sandwich from the 1950s that, along with the intimate atmosphere of the restaurant, recalls the days of swank supper clubs, convertible cars, and dancing under the stars.
The sandwich is the Monte Cristo, and if you've never tried one, now's the time. A variation on the renowned French croque monsieur, the Monte Cristo is a combination of ham, turkey, and swiss cheese piled high amid two sourdough bread slices that have been soaked in egg batter and grilled or deep-fried. This is some lunchtime delight.
In downtown Toledo, the Monte Cristo was a famous signature sandwich at the old Willard Motor Lodge, which served them hot and plump. To my mind, the Peppercorns version is every bit as good.
Located in Towpath Village, a small shopping strip on Fifth Street at Louisiana Avenue, the eatery - once the home of the vaunted Syd & Diane's restaurant - features such other '50s standards as French onion soup, shrimp cocktails, and at least two other American classics, Surf 'n' Turf and a delicious, though decidedly less theatrical, steak Diane.
In general, the food fills expectations as well as stomachs with a lively range of choices: pork Frangelico, king crab legs, pepper-crusted New York strip steak, and a handful of imaginatively prepared veal, pasta, and prime rib entrees. Although not all the dishes lived up to their promise on our recent visits, there were enough successes to justify going back.
The restaurant is divided into a good-sized bar, an adjacent narrow (and noisy) alcove, and a large back dining room festooned in faux greenery: wreaths, shrubs, even trees. Unfortunately, the lighting is so dim as to be murky, and the restrooms are located outside the restaurant, in the shopping strip hallway.
Though our 7 p.m. reservation somehow got lost, the hostess immediately seated us in the alcove, where we opened with an appetizer of fairly tasteless sauerkraut balls ($6.50), that were helped along somewhat by the accompanying horseradish
mustard. The $7.95 crab cakes also proved a disappointment, in that they were deep-fried rather than pan-seared, hence losing their crunch. But a $2.50 cup of cream of potato soup helped warm our spirits.
Two entrees also brightened the evening. An order of Lake Superior whitefish ($13.95), was perfectly broiled, with an enticing crust of pine nuts and a helping of garlic mashed potatoes. Steak Diane ($19.95) was cooked with requisite tenderloin medallions sauteed with mushrooms and scallions, and served in a rich marsala sauce. The medium-rare steak was tender and delectable.
About that lunchtime Monte Cristo ($6.75): The ham and turkey were combined with mozzarella, American, and cream cheeses and made all the more memorable with the addition of roasted red peppers and onions.
Some recipes call for powdering the sandwich with confectioner's sugar and serving it with currant jelly or sweet mustard. My taste buds would have rebelled - I'll take the Peppercorns rendition any day.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org