TASTY Shrimp and corn fritters.
Vegans and vegetarians, step aside for a moment. The hunters are returning in greater numbers, gently pushing aside the gatherers. Not just in business lunch enclaves like Capital Grille, powered by expense accounts, but in places for us, like the ChopHouse Grille in Wakefield. As a good Rhode Islander, I’m obliged to describe its location as where Casey’s used to be.
It’s a nice place, with four dining areas, one with a less than enormous bar and a modest two screens for sports fans. It’s a cloth napkin restaurant, sans tablecloths but with cozy touches like a glowing gas fireplace. There are also decidedly unstuffy areas, like a stretch with a raw plank wall.
Owners Charlie Samaras and Jamie Laplume opened it recently, putting the kitchen in the reliable hands of Chris Jones and Jay Bourassa, formerly of The Mooring and 22 Bowen’s in Newport.
The intelligent menu was the first indication that we’d be enjoying our meal. Take the starters. The steamed edamame beans ($5.95) were tossed with toasted sesame oil to jazz up the flavor. The restaurant’s take on fried calamari, our state appetizer, is also indicative of kitchen smarts. The preparation here ($9.95) is close to the traditional version, tossed with pepperoncini, but imaginatively adds roasted garlic butter and fried capers. What most impressed me among the starters is a brilliant touch that will make carnivores weep: applewood-smoked, maple-Dijon-glazed, thick-cut grilled bacon ($7.95), with some green apple and salad greens thrown in to cut the cholesterol.
I did shed a tear, but only because the wife would have none of that last item. With a sigh, I agreed to the shrimp and corn fritters ($9.95). But they were tasty. The roasted lemon jalapeño aioli was tangy, and though the baby shrimp were from Maine rather than from across the Pacific, their flavor understandably got lost in the concoction. Hmmm. Maybe if they had been fried in bacon fat. . . .
I went on to enjoy myself. Why doesn’t every place split a salad for two, as they considerately do here? The signature ChopHouse chopped salad ($7.95) provided a generous portion for each of us, the red onions on the side for me, and the kalamata olives being distributed in pieces rather than whole was a sensible touch. That the feta is from Narragansett Creamery underscores the local-source ethos of the place.
Their seafood ranges from fish and chips ($14.95) to grilled yellowfin tuna ($25.95) done Asian style, in a coconut curry broth. There are three pasta offerings, including pappardelle ($22.95) with both Cajun baby shrimp and larger white ones.
Meatloaf ($15.95) (bacon-wrapped!) was among the four entrées, but I chose the broiled ribeye steak ($24.95) instead of something from the half-dozen “ChopHouse Cuts.” Twelve succulent ounces, thick enough to be perfectly cooked medium rare, quite a flavorful cut. I didn’t regret not choosing the meatloaf, because bundles of asparagus tips were, you got it, wrapped in bacon. Roasted fingerling potatoes and a rich brown gravy — a smoked apple demiglaze — rounded out the satisfaction. I had it with a delicious, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, ridiculously priced at only $6.50. It made me happy that, oddly, there was no listed Shiraz, my usual go-to red.