Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bridge Road Bistro

Sesame Fried Calamari - tossed in spicy sesame garlic sauce.

The difficult part of visiting any city is finding someplace good to eat. Truth be told, I'm really just like everyone else - I'm scared of finding something bad. This is the same mentality that drives the masses to eat at Applebee's, Cheesecake Factory, Panera Bread and Burger King, no matter where they are in the world.

With the advent of the Internet, we now have resources like Yelp!, Urbanspoon and the like to help guide us. The biggest problem of these sites and their reviews is the same as following any critic - it takes awhile to learn if your tastes are in line with those of the reviewer. And the real threat with Urbanspoon and Yelp is that they could be populated by people with more, say pedestrian aka "normal", tastes.

Classic Caesar - hearts of romaine, garlic crostini, aged parmesan, oven roasted tomatoes.

Because of this, it's difficult to accurately gauge which place is great and which isn't. Even in my own hometown of Baltimore the top ten listings aren't the typical places I find on my regular dining retinue. But we have to try.

Pluses and minuses, I decided to give Bridge Road Bistro a try. A peek at their website suggests that farm-to-table kind of mentality and their Urbanspoon writeups run sporadic. Situated in what seems to be the "nicer" part of Charleston: South Hills, the bistro is known for okay food and high prices. In retrospect, I'm starting to wonder what possessed me to try the place.

The bistro is located in a relatively non-descript building in the heart of the Bridge Road shopping district. Reading about the area, I expected some sort of expansive shopping road, probably at least a half-mile long bustling with shops and activity. The reality is that it's about 200 yards of shops in a relatively sleepy, suburban setting.

Fried Green Tomato BLT - apple smoked bacon, lettuce, roasted garlic mayo, toasted sourdough.

We arrived around 11:30 in the morning and the place was almost empty. It's a Saturday and they're offering a breakfast buffet. And it's nearly empty. Maybe that should tell us something.

So much of the hoopla online about the bistro talks about how expensive it is, how fine dining they're trying to be, giving me the impression that this is going to be some fancy place where I might feel a little out of place wearing shorts and a t-shirt (it is a Ralph Lauren Polo t-shirt though). Not in the least. The bistro strikes me as a fancy clad Denny's. Rows of booth seating clad in wood with muted color schemes make it slightly upscale but it still feels very much like a diner, with lovely wood tabletops.

And how truly lovely those tabletops are. Solid wood tables in a deep, thick lacquer really were my favorite decor detail. Otherwise, the bar is about the only section in the place that kind of lives up to the hype with it's wood chairs and tables. Had they done the entire restaurant like that it would have truly given the place an upscale edge.

Inside with the fried green tomatoes.

I have to admit, I was a bit off put by the decor. I was expecting something thought out, not a nicer version of Denny's. Then there was the menu. Decent, if uninspired offerings. I usually don't do this, but I ended up quizzing our very nice server about some details. Is the calamari fresh or frozen? Delivered every other day. Are the fries battered? No, they're made here.

To my eye, the only interesting item on the menu was the Fried Green Tomato BLT. Something probably locally sourced, fresh and light. We decided on the calamari, caesar salad and the BLT.

I really want to rave about the places I visit. I really do. But this time, I just can't. The food was typical and perfunctory. The calamari was thickly battered and covered in a sticky sweet sauce with a hint of spice. The caesar salad was on the bland side and just average. So far, the best part of the meal was our servers friendliness and the iced tea.

The Other Half.

I was holding out hope for the BLT. When it arrived it looked promising. Nicely toasted sourdough bread, a cup of cole slaw, a wedge of pickle and some fries. The pickle was soft and lacked crisp. The cole slaw could have been really good but lacked the acid to punch it up and salt to pronounce its flavor. Then there was the fries.

I certainly hope that our server was simply mistaken that the fries were made in-house because homemade fries these were not. Frozen, commercial with skins - yes. Freshly made? No way. In fact, with a little time I could probably find the Simplot product number.

As for the BLT, it was pretty good. Definitely the highlight of the meal. Crispy bacon piled high with slightly greasy fried green tomatoes and lettuce. Quite enjoyable. Add the chewy interior texture and crusty crust of the bread and it was darn good. The biggest problem was the other half. A nearly empty restaurant and the bacon and tomatoes are lopsided onto one half of the sandwich? Obviously the kitchen is not paying attention to the details.

I wish I could rave about Bridge Road Bistro, but I can't. Sadly, they're not really trying to give a reason to rave, they're just going by the numbers, and maybe that's good enough for The South Hills, but it's a darn shame.

Bridge Road Bistro
915 Bridge Road
Charleston, WV 25314

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