Saturday, June 4, 2011

Amerigreek Steak House

Log Cabin
201 North Main Street
Galena, Illinois

Galena, Illinois, is a gentrified overgrown one-street country town. Some time ago, it was rediscovered by the artsy-fartsy crowd and gussied up to look like what it looked like in its prime, nearly 200 years ago. Except, of course, without the horse droppings, cigar smoke, noise and poverty of the American frontier. Another Disney version of history, ready for the tourists who like to be abed by ten.

There's a stretch of that one street (Main Street) that has a restaurant in almost every space, it seems. They probably open and close with a regularity that would make sand dunes seem stable, but a few of them seem to have managed to stick around. We took the unanimous recommendation of our hotel staff and slid into the Log Cabin for dinner on a Friday night. Run by a Greek family, it did not so much feature Greek foods or styles as offer them here and there: feta cheese in the house dressing, a couple of appetizers, a couple of dishes. All dark wood and banquettes, the interior made a pleasant change from the slightly-humid, bug-infested evening outdoors. (Box elder bugs are swarming just now; they're harmless, but irritating like gnats.)

We started with a round from the bar, all of which were well-prepared. That would have put us in a good mood for dinner if the service hadn't been so ... uh ... expeditious. Considering that the dinner rush was long over by the time we sat down (but closing time was still a good way off), there was no reason for hurrying us through the courses; yet they did. Our salads arrived only seconds after our drinks; the main platters arrived immediately after. Our before-dinner drinks ended up being after-dinner drinks, and there are few drinks that can perform both roles with any kind of aplomb. 

What's that mean?
Fortunately for our moods, the salads were quite good, large bowls of fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and all the other appropriate rabbit-food items. The dressings tasted home-made (house, with feta cheese, and creamy Italian). The coleslaw chosen by one of our group was even better: sweet, creamy, lusciously delicious. If I ever return to this restaurant, that will be my salad of choice.

For main dishes we had a plate of fried shrimp, one of pork ribs, and one of steak. The pork ribs were easily the best of the three, with a sweet barbecue sauce that brought out the flavour of the perfectly cooked meat. I don't ordinarily do messy food — watermelon, buffalo wings, and barbecue (and long pasta is on my "caution" list) — but I would make an exception for these delicious ribs.

Ranking next in the hierarchy was the shrimp. Present in quantity commensurate with their price, they were breaded in a wheat batter and fried quickly, tempura-style, resulting in very light, very tasty shrimp.

The weak spot of the meal was the New York strip steak. Thick and large but hardly tender meat, with minimal ribboning of fat through it, it was grilled a little beyond the medium-rare I ordered, and it had been rubbed with unusual seasonings — possibly Greek seasonings? — that I found gave it a slightly unpleasant aroma, and the drippings from the meat concentrated the flavour of those spices in a way that I didn't like. I thought the steak was a little overpriced at $26, but not enough to get worked up about. The less-than-perfect quality of the meat was more the issue.

(And while I'm talking about price, let me say this: I wanted to order prime rib, but was irked by the fact that that dish is offered at one price ("our everyday price," ironically, since it applies only three days out of seven) on weekends and another, lower, price the rest of the week. There is no acceptable excuse for that kind of institutionalized price-gouging.)

The accoutrements of the meal were good: good, soft bread; baked potatoes offered with melted cheese, sour cream, and plenty of butter; and a relish tray of a sort that I have not seen in ages, containing raw radishes, celery, carrots and green onion to munch on. There's a tradition that should enjoy a resurgence.

There were some service issues: we asked for utensils twice (there were only two sets on a table set for four), and finally had to swipe some from another table; our waitress was ready to walk away after only one of us had ordered a drink, and had to be stopped so the rest of us could place our orders; we had to ask twice for some of the dressings for our potatoes; and despite the unrelaxed speed at which things were brought from the kitchen, empty plates were slow to make their way back, and we had to resort to piling things on the next table in order to have room to eat. Listing the flaws like that may make them seem more important than they seemed at the time. In fact all they did was keep the service at the Log Cabin from being rated above average, because otherwise the server was pleasant and engaging, knowledgeable, and attentive to our needs. Taken altogether, I would say simply that the service here was uneven, nothing worse.
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