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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Restaurant review: Erie Street Chowder House ***

As the new year begins, the long-suffering Erie Street Market continues to struggle for survival amid financial difficulties and slow customer traffic. But there's at least one ray of hope. It's the Erie Street Chowder House, which opened last August. If the fates allow, it may yet help breathe new life into the beleaguered market on the edge of downtown Toledo.

New England clam chowder is the headliner, along with several seafood dishes and a rather unconventional mix of other foods to please a variety of palates - everything from burgers, red beans and rice, and all-you-can-eat prime rib and yellow perch on Fridays, to Hawaiian and Caribbean jerk salads and chicken drenched in mango-pineapple salsa.

The dcor reflects the diverse interests of Robert Rosencrantz, the proprietor and chef. For instance, in one corner of the main dining room stands a table shaded by a thatched tiki umbrella. On the wall behind it are posters of the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii starring Rosencrantz's idol, Elvis Presley. With his long sideburns and Elvis jumpsuits, the Toledo chef is also an Elvis impersonator, ready to launch into a swivel-hipped performance by the King at the drop of a lei.

Rosencrantz, who also runs a catering operation, owned the former Breakwater Caf in Point Place before becoming executive chef at Maumee Bay State Park. He then logged seven years as executive chef at the Zenobia Shrine on Madison Avenue before alighting for the Erie Street Market.

As for the food, it's pretty good. Among the seafood choices are the above-average clam chowder ($3.50 a cup/$5.50 a bowl), chock full of chopped clams. Even better is the creamy seafood bisque ($4.95/$6.95) with lobster, shrimp, and scallops.

Filling out the seagoing side of the menu are baked Boston scrod ($10.95), beer-battered cod & chips ($8.95), and beer-battered yellow perch on Fridays - unfortunately, too much batter and not enough broiled, poached, or char-grilled fish for my likes. I also would have liked to try the Maryland lump crab cakes ($10.95), tantalizingly described as pan-seared and loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat, but the kitchen ran out.

"The best burger in town," though pricey at $7.95, is indeed good enough to contend for the title, while the eight-ounce New York strip (10.95), served open-faced on a garlic-buttered baguette, was juicy, tender, and cooked to order.

Other dishes worth trying are the $4.95 baked bruschetta with scrumptious artichokes, olive oil, and four cheeses, and two side dishes, southern-style red beans & rice and buttered, seasoned redskin potatoes. Both are $2.95, or free with entrees.

Considering Rosencrantz's passion for all things Elvis, it wouldn't surprise me to see the King's favorite sandwich on the menu one day. It's a fat-loaded concoction that, depending on who's describing it, squeezes peanut butter, bananas, honey, and bacon between two buttered slices of white bread, which is then fried in bacon fat. What to call it? How about "A Hunk of Burning Love"?

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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