Epicurious Eating: All American Grill
Star spangled kitchen
Published Thursday, 31-Dec-2009 in issue 1149
Yippee! Trophy’s in the Hazard Center is out. All American Grill flaunting bona fide meal “trophies” is in.
The Grill’s emergence spotlights Timothy Au, the whiz-bang chef who dazzled patrons of Molly’s with fine-dining envelope-pushing cuisine before it sadly vanished. Few tears have been shed, however, over the desertion of Trophy’s, which unlike Au’s approach to “made-in-America” favorites, adhered to mediocrity before downgrading to lowly ingredients during its last few years of life. Meat dishes in particular became the sore losers.
At All American Grill we are still exposed to salads, burgers, sandwiches, ribs, etc., but of a snazzier order thanks to Au’s proclivity for applying imagination to seasonal produce and quality proteins. The space has remained pretty much the same with the exception of lighter wall colors and a few original art pieces replacing sports trophies. Flat screens remain, yet the vibe for Sunday football wasn’t as jock-infested as we had anticipated.
Half-pound Midwest Angus beef burgers are rescued from their usual doldrums with toppings such as smoked mozzarella, mushroom ragout, spicy aioli and balsamic onions. Titled with Americana themes like Wall Street, Miracle Mile and True Nickel, the patties flip off the grill oozing steak-like juices, and they’re captured on artisan rolls. Homemade Kennebee potato chips became our favored inclusion over standard French fries.
Our lunch trio stuck entirely to beef for main courses. A seven-ounce top sirloin comprising the open-faced “Financial District” on sourdough revealed a tender grain uncommon to sandwich steaks used in other sports bars. It took passively to a butter knife – our only feasible tool since the waitress didn’t equip us with anything sharper. Savory mushrooms and sweetly intoxicating balsamic-grilled onions (appearing also on our Wall Street burger) made it all the more enticing.
Minutes after ordering a cold roast beef sandwich called the Blue Collar, I questioned if it would be a sandwich that I wished were served warm. Not the case. The thinly sliced, piled-high beef had a creamy, natural flavor that surpassed oven-plucked roasts. White cheddar, vine tomatoes, red onions and grain-mustard aioli bedding the meat had me practically singing the National Anthem.
Midday appetizers and “fork” salads are reasonably priced, despite Au’s sneaky gourmet twists. Griddled chicken skewers, for instance, are curry-marinated and served with cucumber yogurt sauce. Fried calamari is punctuated with “pepper flake” marinara and toasted garlic aioli. And Boise flash-fried potato skins, well endowed with first-rate cheddar and chunky bacon, came with an above-board Ranch dressing that sparkled from copious fresh dill. So good, we requested an extra bowl of the stuff for dipping in those aforementioned homemade chips.
Other lunch choices include several pasta dishes, one of them a tempting toss of marinated prime sirloin, baby spinach, bell peppers, toasted cashews and ginger-soy sauce. Crafty sandwiches, lively seafood preparations and a couple of comfort soups round out the offerings. (Now is the time to seize upon Au’s butternut squash soup garnished with arugula puree and cranberry relish.)
A peek at the dinner menu (presented after 4 p.m.) reveals the addition of whiskey ribs, Wyoming buffalo meatloaf and bigger steaks cloaked in boozy sauces and jus gravies. There are also wood-fired pizzas earning raves around town, particularly the Wine Country topped with prosciutto, black figs and red grapes. Au’s menu overall leaves you feeling a million miles removed from where Trophy’s stood.
Our waitress was of the young Pollyanna ilk, not someone I’d exactly want as my banker. She scored high on cheer, but rated average in organizational skills and menu knowledge. We got a kick when she suggested in training-manual script that we try some sort of Snickers-Oreo concoction for dessert. Funny that another local food writer noted the same confection push in her review in November.
For both the other critic and us, it sounded too juvenile, and I’m not sure why this promotion persists. Go with the perfect panna cotta instead. It much better fits into Au’s patriotic kingdom of comfort food stamped with mindfully sophisticated twists.