Last month I made the comment that the quality of a restaurant is often inversely proportional to its size. This month, karma decided to be a smart ass when I walked into tiny Eli’s Kitchen and was informed by the hostess that there’d be a 30-minute wait. On a Wednesday. In downtown Warren. Man, this was going be good.
Although we were the third group in line, we were seated within ten minutes. I couldn’t help but think that the hostess was trained to say “30 minutes” to everyone so they could weed out the foodies from the tire kickers. We were given the option of sitting sooner at the community table, but we declined, knowing we were on track for a booth by the window. Once seated, we waited a bit for someone to come over, for our crispy pita and hummus (no bread and butter here), and to place a drink order. It wasn’t an extraordinary wait, but it seemed disproportionate to the small number of seats and ample staff. I bring it up for reasons to be noted shortly.
I never got our waitress’s name, but even if I did, I wouldn’t mention it here lest she get in trouble with her boss for being too nice. She earned her first gold star by convincing my fiancée that Yacht Club Soda Ginger Beer was an acceptable substitute for ginger ale, and that if she didn’t like it, “We’ll just pretend it never happened.” I went with a House Rosemint Iced Tea – more rose-y than the mint-y I hoped for, but very refreshing on this particular humid evening.
We started with the Sweet Chili Cauliflower ($5), name that conjured an image different from reality. When I read this on the menu I focused on the “Chili” and expected “hot,” but this was quite the opposite – a sweet, Asian-style sauce with fried garlic, shallots and herbs. We also ordered the Crab and Dill Beignets ($8), which is just about the most ingenious thing I’ve eaten in a long time. Imagine that a clam cake and a crab cake had a baby – not just any baby, but a genetically modified specimen that incorporated the absolute best attributes of each parent. From the outside, the beignet looked like a clam cake – just lightly fried enough to have some crunch and let you scoop up tartar sauce without everything falling apart. On the inside, a ball of juicy crab without all the bread filling. This dish could be the cronut craze for piscivores.
My entrée was the Yellow Thai Curry ($12) – chicken breast, mango, potato, onion, red pepper, fried shallots, fried garlic and cilantro over jasmine rice. Curries can sometimes be a soupy mess, but this was flavorful and hearty. As good as it was, I would have preferred to steal my fiancée’s Falafel Flatbread ($10), a falafel cutlet (not sure if that description is accurate, but it didn’t look like the usual smooshed falafel ball) with hummus, pickles, local feta, lettuce, tomato and yogurt sauce. The concoction was crispy and fresh, and is already making us think of our return. The only misstep was that we ordered a side of greens but received a side of sweet potato fries. These left a bit to be desired but our waitress made amends by bringing us a side of greens to go (gold star #2).
We were completely stuffed by the time dessert rolled around, but since duty called, we ordered Coffee S’mores Pie ($5) to go. A thin but dense coffee-flavored crust was layered with a chocolate bar and topped with toasted marshmallows. Although we ate it refrigerated the next day and perhaps did not do the intended presentation justice, it was still phenomenal.
We waited a bit for our bill and when it arrived the dessert was missing. Two things you need to know. First, I am an honest man. Second, I am not a patient man. I informed our waitress of the mistake, but I started to get a tiny bit antsy knowing this would delay our departure. On this night, however, our waitress had two gold stars and soon returned with her eyes on a hat trick: “It was our mistake and you guys have been so patient tonight, your dessert is on us.”
Someone recently said to me that they dine out for the dining experience, not for nourishment. As a foodie, I initially thought this was absurd. Upon further reflection, I was shortsighted. Service is part of the experience, and service matters. So does the food. At Eli’s Kitchen, you don’t have to pick.