Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Phoenix Rising From The Ashes: Prime at Anthe's

The last time I attended the restaurant Anthe's in Akron, OH, I was sorely disappointed. The menu felt both old and bloated, the prices were inconsistent with the quality of the food, and quite honestly, the food was so hit and miss that I just couldn't in good conscience recommend it. Shortly after I went, I read in the Akron Beacon Journal that the previous Chef and Owner, Chef Uecke, had decided to sell to another Akron stalwart, John Bahas, already owner of the Waterloo Restaurant and to Chad Gano, another Akron native. I had stayed away from the "new" Anthe's purposely until tonight. I wanted them to live or die on their new menu, their new cooking staff, and their new approach.

While this awning is a reminder of the tradition that Anthe's has brought to the Akron area for decades:

It was this new signage that signaled a change had taken place:

The restaurant has been reborn as Prime at Anthe's. And WHAT a transformation. Not so much in the look or feel of the restaurant. Or even really the clientèle. Yet. But the new approach to the food and menu is extremely refreshing. The menu has been pared down to a front and back side and includes a half dozen each (roughly) of appetizers, salads, steaks & chops, seafood, and chicken & pastas. And all very reasonably priced. There are still some Anthe's staples that seemed to survive the revamping of the menu that don't feel like they fit in real well, such as the Asian Pierogies, but for the most part, the menu is much tighter.

As anyone who has eaten at Anthe's knows, every meal starts out with the ubiquitous bean salad, a wonderful melding of kidney beans, onions, celery, and a creamy dressing that has a nice tang to it.

I think that this dish is actually better than what I had the last time I ate there. Maybe it was just corrected seasonings, but this was actually tasty tonight, whereas before I remembered it being so-so.

The other Anthe's staple is the sourdough rolls. Now, I have fond memories of these rolls from my youth (my prom dinner was at Anthe's), but when I finally tasted them after 19 years the last time I was here, I wasn't as impressed. They are sour, yes, but taste unlike any sourdough roll I've had since learning more about making breads from scratch. I will say this, the taste this time was consistent with times previous. These aren't my favorite version of a sourdough bread, but the rolls were crusty on the outside, creamy on the inside, and nice and hot.

And an interior crumb shot:

I'll just chalk it up to the flavor either being something you either totally crave or something that you may never understand. While I am completely in love with the quality of the end product, it may take me a few more times to completely fall in love with the sourdough quality of the bread.

All entrees come with a garden salad and one side. They have several homemade dressings and I chose the homemade blue cheese dressing to garnish my salad. It should be noted that the croutons are also homemade and are quite good, having that lovely crunchy outside, flavored with olive oil and garlic, and a softer, chewier texture inside.

And, yes, there it is again in the photo, that single lone slice of pickled beet. I think I'm actually becoming a fan as this one was wonderfully sweet and tangy. The salad was a nice mix of greens, some bitter, some more herbaceous. Everything worked well together. The dressing wasn't quite up to par as some blue cheese dressings I've had in the past (most notably was the absence of those large chunks of blue cheese that are so delicious), but as a dressing, it worked well.

I decided to give one of the appetizers a try as well. The old stand-by, mussels in garlic, tomato, wine, butter, and fresh chiffonade of basil:

Also present in this dish (but not listed on the menu) were shallots. A squeeze of fresh lemon and we were off to the races. This was pretty close to divine. I was devouring my salad when my server brought this to the table and the heady aroma of the garlic just blew me away. The mussels were perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. The other ingredients only served to prop the mussels up. The only negative thing I will say about this dish, and please take this with a grain of salt, is that the tomatoes were April tomatoes, not August tomatoes. They just didn't give that wonderful sweetness to the dish that they should've. But I have to judge the dish based on the ultimate standard of what it could be, so I felt I should mention it. Given a better tomato, this dish should truly soar.

Finally, for my entree, I decided on the broiled chicken breast with sauce veloute and fine herbes. Like I mentioned earlier, it came with one side and I choose to stick with the menu and go with the garlic mashed potatoes.

A generous portion for sure. The garlic mashed potatoes had the perfect texture and were perfectly seasoned. The sauce was delicious (how couldn't it be when it had that much enrichment from heavy cream?). The chicken was perfectly seasoned. And it was cooked to perfection: nice and juicy on the inside and tender enough to cut with a fork. It is so easy to overcook chicken breast. This was literally perfection on a plate. The sauce went very well with the chicken, the fine herbes (traditionally chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon) being used to garnish the plate. The sauce felt like it was more in the realm of a sauce Supreme category as opposed to a traditional sauce Veloute. However, it was delicious, unctuous, and rich.

I also decided to try another side, the fresh cut fries tossed with kosher salt and rosemary.

I know that I am a notoriously hard to please stickler for fries. They have to be crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and not at all greasy. Anthe's version was a home run! Seasoned with kosher salt and rosemary essense, these fries required no extra condiments. In fact, that would be an insult to the person who came up with this technique. The only thing I wish this side dish had was a more assertive rosemary flavor. Knowing from the menu that there was rosemary in the dish, I could definitely get the faintest aroma of it as I ate it. However, had I not had that knowledge, I might never have picked up on it. Potatoes, salt, and rosemary are a classic combination and I say to hell with the ketchup ... bring on more rosemary. Fix the rosemary issue and this will be, far and above, the best fresh cut fry I've ever had.

Finally, the best part of the meal came when I asked for the check. Everything I had above, including an iced tea, with tax, came to $28. Now I know that is still a lot of money for some people nowadays, but compared to the previous Anthe's, this is simply stunning. Hell, there were some entrees that were $28 alone on the previous menu.

And for those of you who are looking to dine out at a nice restaurant while still watching your budget, on Tuesday through Thursday, Prime at Anthe's offers a special menu where you and your dining companion can choose an appetizer to split, each choose your own entree, and each choose your own dessert all for only $40.

What was even more amazing is that at the end of my meal, I threw a few questions at my server and discovered that the head chef wasn't even there tonight. This meal, from beginning to end, was perfectly seasoned and the flavors were well balanced. The food was executed, more or less, to a very high standard, and I for one, know that I now have a restaurant in Akron that I can finally recommend to my friends in Cleveland, Akron, and Canton. The chef has done an excellent job finding and training his staff.

So, for those of you reading this post who might find themselves looking for a nice night out at a restaurant that has both a nice atmosphere and outstanding food, look no further than Prime at Anthe's. I think that the new owners have taken all the long-standing tradition from the previous generation, given it a much needed face lift and have come up with an outstanding dining experience. I know that I look forward to returning very soon.

1 comment:

DianeS said...

I look forward to visiting with you!

I love bean salads as a starter. There is an Italian place in the Detroit area that Steve and I used to frequent and they serve a nice little bean salad when you sit down.