Von's Grand City Cafe - Eclectic Pub Food (3 Stars)
Von's RoastHouse & 1000 Spirits Martini-Manhattan Memorial, a.k.a. Von's Grand City Cafe (I have no clue why it has two different names depending on where you're looking), has more alcohol on their bar shelves than a state-run liquor store! During our visit, their sign outside said they were serving up over 760 different types of alcohol. Even for a non-drinker like me, that's impressive.
Another impressive tidbit about the cafe is the bar's tchotchke-laden ceiling and kitschy "spin the wheel for discounts" experience. A skateboard, bicycle, and even a Seattle Police car door are just three of what must be several hundred items hanging (we hope securely) from the ceiling. There are also two menus if you're sitting in the bar. The first is the Martini-Bar Starters menu that offers 24 items from Kushi Yaki Pork Potstickers and Wild Alaska Salmon and Chips, to the Bloody Mary Prawn Cocktail, Saucy Sliders, Ale Battered Chicken Fingers, and Cast Iron Ahi Tuna. The main lunch menu offers nearly 60 different items.
That said, when three big, burly, hungry guys sit down and peruse a menu, it's hardly shocking that appetizers (and ordering a dozen of them) soon becomes the primary topic of conversation. In our case, we ordered four plus burgers!
Our first appetizer was an order of RoastHouse Pork Eggrolls. It was this plate that set the tone for complete disagreement about all of the rest of the dishes. Mark and I thought the eggrolls were greasy and tasted frozen (despite the menu specifically saying they're made fresh daily), while Mike thought they were amazing and offered: "These things have NEVER heard of a freezer!" I will say that when the eggrolls were finished, there was a hearty pool of oil on the plate. Also, the "sweet and sour" dipping sauce tasted like it was from a bottle and was thick and gloppy.
The Fried Brie was an unusual find and we mostly agreed it was good. Despite the overdone hand-breaded Panko crust, the brie inside was delicious and gooey and spread easily over the Carr's water crackers. However, the oddity on the plate was the bottled strawberry sauce. It definitely tasted like something you'd put on a sundae, not something you'd serve to offer a sweet counterpoint to the savory cheese. And as if bottled strawberry sauce wasn't enough, they added a small bowl of roasted apple cranberry chutney. The chutney was a bone of contention at the table with half of us thinking the apple texture was too mushy and the other half thinking it was perfect. In all, strawberry sauce plus apple chutney is just too much sweet on a savory plate.
Of the appetizers, the Ale Battered Chicken Fingers were actually very good. Moist, tender, and with a slightly spicy coating, the chicken was the best appetizer of the lot. Even the ranch dressing was better than run-of-the-mill. The fingers were served in a basket along with Von's Roaster's House BBQ sauce, though Mike opted for a side of ranch instead. Unfortunately, they put the fingers and condiment bowl on top of chopped lettuce which wilts and sticks to the chicken fingers. Any time you need to scrape something off what you're eating, the enjoyment factor drops.
The last appetizer of our afternoon was the Chinese BBQ Pork. The biggest frustration with BBQ Pork "Chinese style" tends to be very dry pork. Unfortunately, this wasn't an exception. The "sweet marinated slice loin 'o pork" flavor was average, though it was served with a hearty side of Hot Chinese Mustard as well as a sesame seed-toppped Asian salad with cabbage. The salad offered a savory, crunchy texture in contrast to the pork, but the flavor overall just wasn't very noteworthy. The dressing on the salad tasted like an Asian inspired vinaigrette.
As if four appetizers weren't enough, all of us decided to order the Von's Classic Cheeseburger. The patty was pretty huge (third-pound?), bacon thick-cut and delicious (though my bacon was definitely burned), and the bun was slightly sweet and actually perfect. The usual lettuce, tomato, and cheese accompanied the burger. The odd thing about the burger was the Von's secret sauce. It combined maple syrup and savory components and was very hit and miss at our table. The large pile of fries on the plate were barely touched by any of us due to completely full stomachs, but the few fries we did manage to consume were well-seasoned and crispy.
In a restaurant well known for copious amounts of alcohol, Mike couldn't get through the meal without ordering a Lemon Martini. He mentioned several times that it was well-mixed, had a great lemon flavor without being too tart or acidic, and he certainly didn't stop with just one. It sounded like the martini was the best thing he had all meal.
In all, Von's is an eclectic, interesting establishment with average food and an above-average decor. After much wrangling with my fellow diners, the best we could agree to was a well-deserved 3 Star rating. Mike wanted it to be 3.5, Mark was voting 3, and I didn't see much hope with a 2.5. As such, the average was 3 Stars and that's the best Von's was able to do during our visit. Go in expecting average fare, above average eye candy, and an unparalleled list of alcohol and you won't be disappointed.