Room for improvement at North Toledo saloon

Top sirloin with onion rings.
Top sirloin with onion rings.

The service at The Brownstone Tavern is exceptional.

The wait staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth, and they give the North Toledo restaurant a positive, homey feel that is a strength for a place that doesn't transcend solid-but-bland, meat-and-potatoes basics.

The 27-year-old family-owned diner sits in the shadow the GM Powertrain plant on Alexis Road and is a favorite of regulars. Unfortunately, the Brownstone doesn't go much beyond what you'd get at a chain such as Bob Evans, despite having several good offerings on its fairly deep menu.

MENU: The Brownstone Tavern

First the positives:

The vegetable soup ($2.65) was thick with potatoes, barley, green beans, peas, and carrots, and was an excellent example of comfort food served right. The waitress said it was homemade and it was piping hot.

We ordered the tomato bread on a lunch visit ($5.75) and the French bread brushed with olive oil was covered with baked mozzarella cheese and big slices of fresh tomatoes that tasted like they had just been pulled off the vine. Served with marinara sauce on the side, this is an excellent appetizer that a lot of places that specialize in bar food would like to call their own.

The 8-ounce top sirloin steak ($10.95) was ordered medium and it came pink in the middle and seared on the outside and was a great example of what the Brownstone can do when the effort in the kitchen matches the quality of the service. We ordered it with a side of onion rings ($2.50) that most likely were store-bought and frozen, given their uniformity.

On the down side, the Brownstone seems to rely too much on pre-packaged foods and not enough on the kind of thought and preparation that went into the vegetable soup or the sirloin.

The mashed potatoes that came with the hot roast beef sandwich with gravy ($7.50) came from a mix. Of course they were creamy and smooth but they didn't taste homemade and neither did the brown gravy.

The liver and onions ($7.95/$9.95) were solid -- the liver wasn't too chewy, which is a deal-killer with this dish -- but not exceptional either. It was served with the mashed potatoes and gravy.

With the exception of the tomato bread, lunch was a disappointment. The garden stir fry with chicken ($10.50) is seriously over-priced for what you get: broccoli, yellow squash, onions, tomatoes, red peppers, and zucchini in a virtually tasteless mish-mash with slightly tough chicken tossed in. There appeared to be no effort to add any sauce to flavor the dish, which was huge, and eating it felt like a forced march.

A quarter-pound burger ($3.25) with Swiss cheese, onions, and mushrooms wasn't much better. The burger was small and dry, the onions weren't completely caramelized, and there was more bun than meat. A side of french fries ($1.50) was equally uninspiring.

We didn't order desserts on either visit because the waitress told us they are purchased from a national chain (Sara Lee) and are not homemade.

The interior of the restaurant is mostly charming, with a large street light in the middle, vintage bird cages, and other decorations. A small bar is in the restaurant. The restroom area is cramped (the men's room was especially dingy) and with a few old video games in a side area and a wall of tacky beer signs, it makes that part of the restaurant feel like you just walked into a college bar circa 1984.



★ ★

Address: 847 W. Alexis Rd.

Phone: 419-478-0324.

Category: Casual.

Menu: American.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. No reservations are accepted.

Wheelchair access: Yes.

Average Price: $$

Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.

Web site: None.

Contact Bill of Fare at