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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

Restaurant review: South End Grille ***

Tavern food is a strange genre. It's often mediocre but still popular, mostly because the pub in question is a neighborhood watering hole, the kind of place golfers hit after a game or families drop into because mom's cupboards (or inspiration) are bare.

The South End Grille, in the Kroger plaza on Glendale Avenue near Reynolds Road, is such a place.

On the weekends, live (and loud) music draws a younger, livelier crowd, but during the week, there's a laid-back ambience, where couples drop by for supper, groups of friends swap tall tales, and kids play the corn-hole game near the front of the establishment. Sixteen TV sets broadcast Keno games and assorted sporting events.

Overall, most of the food that a companion and I tried on several visits was above average, although a few orders flirted with being merely ordinary.

An exceedingly busy seven-page menu runs the gamut from daily specials to kids' meals to desserts, and a loose sheet labeled Features Menu offers a little more variety. Mostly variations on the burgers-hot dogs-fries theme, there are some standouts.

From the featured dinners, we tried the Lake Erie yellow perch ($12.99) and the St. Louis style ribs ($15.99 for a full rack; $9.49 for a half rack). The menu says the perch comes with a choice of potato and house vegetable, but we had onion rings and a salad, and there was no increase in price on the bill.

Whoever is working the fryer in the kitchen knows what he or she is about. Lightly breaded, the perch, the onion rings, and a mushroom appetizer ($4.99) were all crisp and delicious and not at all greasy. No little pools of oil collected on the plate, indicating that someone had taken the draining process seriously.

Served with mashed potatoes and coleslaw, the ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender with a sauce that was more sweet (my preference) than fiery. The potatoes tasted as if they were prepackaged, but they were pretty good all the same.

From the sandwich category we tried the 'shroom burger ($6.99), which was fat with mushrooms and swiss cheese The menu calls it an “S.E. Original,” but it didn't look a whole lot different from other mushroom burgers I've had. It also didn't stop it from being delicious. It comes with chips, but we ordered fries, which was another 99 cents, and again tipped our collective caps to the person working the fryer.

On the disappointing side were a Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($7.99) and a thin-crust pizza ($7.99 for a 14-inch pizza, plus 79 cents per topping).

Despite having seasoned beef, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and cheese, the cheesesteak was strangely bland. The addition of some barbecue sauce helped it out, but we had expected better.

The pizza's crust was so thin that the sauce soaked into it, making it limp and unable to stand up to the weight of the three toppings we ordered. It tasted good, but it was better eaten with a fork than as finger food.

There's a full bar with prices that seemed reasonable (don't expect an extensive wine list), and the young, energetic wait staff was willing to provide extra napkins or sauce efficiently and with a smile.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com.



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