Blue gill sliders at Harbor Inn & Ale in Monroe.
Maybe it's all the open space in the dining room, or the big bay windows with the great view of the marina, or the spacious deck.
Maybe it's the huge rectangular bar with great draft beer offerings like Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat, and Founders Dirty Bastard.
Or maybe the food is just as comforting as the setting is comfortable.
Yeah, maybe that's it.
Harbor Inn & Ale
Address: 13993 Laplaisance Rd, Monroe.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average price: $$.Credit cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: harborinnandale.com.
Ratings: ***** Outstanding; **** Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.
Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants.The Blade pays for critics’ meals.
The menu has a wide variety of seafood, so we plunged right in during our first visit to the Monroe restaurant.
I had the shrimp and sausage cioppino, ($17.99), a New Orleans-inspired stew that was spicy enough to make me sweat, and that's always a good sign. It came with four pieces of garlic bread, which at first I thought was overkill, but they came in handy for soaking up the stew.
The honey bourbon salmon ($14.50) had a sweet glaze that complemented the fish well. The salmon was cooked nicely and not overdone, which can often be the case. It was served with mashed potatoes that had much more flavor than anticipated with the right amount of saltiness and a hint of garlic.
The Lake Erie yellow perch ($17.95) is advertised as a house favorite on the menu. It lived up to the billing as it was fried just right, with a crispy coating and a moist interior.
The plentiful crab cakes ($17.95) generally had a nice mild flavor, but some red pepper in the seasoning occasionally dominated the taste.
A chorizo cheese dip ($6.95) appetizer had more spice and more of a liquid texture than needed, but went well with the homemade pita chips.
The flavor of the clam chowder and lobster bisque ($2.50 each) was top notch, but it would have been nice to have larger pieces of seafood in the soups.
We heard good things about the onion rings ($6.50) from a neighboring table, so on a lunch visit we couldn't resist ordering them. They were very large and very good -- and highly recommended.
When I saw that the harbor burger ($7.95) came with cheddar cheese and bacon on a pretzel bun, I just had to try it. It was fabulous. There may have been too much cheddar cheese because it was very messy. But that didn't stop me from finishing it.
The macaroni and cheese ($8.50) was rich with a lot of flavor. A goodly amount of cheese topped the dish and melted over it. I think it would have benefited from a crusty topping for a little crunch.
The reuben sandwich ($7.95) was piled high with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese and tasted every bit as good as it looked.
Maybe the best dish for lunch -- and certainly the most unique -- was the blue gill sliders ($6.99). Served on tiny toasted rolls, they were surprisingly tasty and deserve special notice.
There were so many other interesting dishes we would have liked to try, such as the cajun rattlesnake pasta ($14.95), cowboy ribeye ($23.95), and the Canadian sea scallops ($16.95).
Oh well, maybe next time.