Crystal Beer Parlor
I usually don't go into a restaurant that's only been open two day -- but I knew the buzz around Crystal Beer Parlor wouldn't allow a wait. The landmark (1933) restaurant has undergone many transformations and is as much a part of the native culture as the St. Patrick's Day parade. It looks like the tradition is in good hands. Already, the food is a quantum leap from my last visit there some three years ago. It's been deep-cleaned, brightened and retooled into a lively, vital restaurant. My friend David loved his Greek taco -- house made spicy gyro meat and the classic fixings inside a half-folded pita bread. He would have liked more salt on his hand cut potato chips -- and I agree. We both loved our gumbo, but come on folks, don't call it gumbo! It's not. No, interpretations of gumbo are not allowed. Call it Meat Head Stew, call it Beer Parlor Stew -- just don't call this meat-laden, rice-rich dish gumbo. I'll have this again...and again. My hand cut French fries and delicately thin onion rings were perfect. My au poivre burger needed more pepper and was overcooked beyond my request. Still, these guys were slammed on day two -- I'll overlook these issues. The brandy pepper sauce with grilled onions came on the side at my request -- man, it's rich, loaded with flavor and the perfect accompaniment to dress up this burger. Show the Nichols brothers some love -- remember this is a work in progress. Still, the CPB is back, and with a bang. Oh, I'm very impressed withe craft beer list -- and a "beers of your fathers" list that contains old-timers like Strohs, Genesee and Micky's.
301 W. Jones St./349-1000
The Melting Pot
It's no surprise that engineers turned restauranteurs Josh Behringer and Jason Stravinski nailed every detail of this new restaurant. It's beautiful, stunning even, and stands as a testament to these young guys' commitment. Ms. T.J. and I were seated in the couples only booths that are very private and set aside from other areas of the restaurant. What we embarked on was the restaurant's "Big Night Out" -- a themed menu that changes quarterly and currently reflects the roots of the restaurant's fondue-based meals -- cheeses and foods of the Alpine nations. The Big Night Out is five courses: cheese fondue with veggies, breads and apples, a salad course, a choice of three entrees and a course of chocolate fondue. Pricing is determined by entree course and is based on per couple. Ala carte and substitutions are allowed -- with no additional charges or conditions. That was the first tip that we'd be receiving exceptional service. And we did. Servers provide ample instructions on handling your hot fondue pot, cooking times and make excellent recommendations regarding menu choices and wines. Honestly, a critical dissection of this experience in a handful of words is impossible. Consider that the entire evening comprised about two-and-a-half hours of fairly intensive engagement with the fondue pots and one another as we dipped, boiled and sauced our way through dinner. Our entree course consisted of three veggies and a plate of bite-sized meats that covered the range from shrimp, ravioli and lobster to chicken, steak, Polish sausage and sauerbraten. It's a lot of food, but remember, you control the pacing. Of course, we basked in the chocolate course that offered treats from marshmallows to fruit to cheesecake for dipping. And now I get it -- why The Melting Pot is such a popular date night getaway -- elegant, cozy, private. The simple process of fondue creates togetherness diners rarely experience in a traditional setting. The restaurant offers larger tables and a small meeting room that can handle parties up to about 25.
232 E. Broughton St./349-5676