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Chappell’s
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$$

Chappell’s character constant

I looked forward to returning to Chappell’s Coral Grill.

It was once a favorite spot to gather with friends, and I have fond memories of munching on crab slaw or cracking a few king crab legs while sipping pinot across from the beautiful antique bar.

The bar is gone now, moved north to the new Coral Grill on Coldwater Road, and soon so will be the entire restaurant, which is moving to Covington Plaza in June. And, perhaps, given it had been so long since my last visit to the charming little plaza with the fountain on Broadway, I should not be surprised that things have changed so much and continue changing.

The menu will change little with the move, owner Gary Chappell said.

No formal plans have been made with longtime chef Brian Adams, but he sees it expanding to offer more steaks and non-seafood items.

But he also assured me that it will never lose its reputation as a place to go for the freshest offerings from the sea.

The slaw will remain, and I am sure the green and red cabbage and slivered carrots will be just as fresh and crispy, and it will still be chock full of sweet nuggets of imitation crab enrobed in a creamy dressing with a nice horseradish kick.

The good-as-it-gets New England clam chowder will also remain with its loose, herb-spiked broth, which is infused with the briny goodness from all of the bits of clam floating in it. It’s as if I dipped my spoon in the ocean with every bite; well, if the ocean had potatoes, that is.

The New York strip steak gave me a glimpse into what there may be more of at the new locale, and that glimpse was a pretty good one. The marbled cut of beef was seared nicely to give it a bit of a crust, and it was at the perfect temperature. The only flaw was that it was void of any seasoning.

A pair of off-the-menu specials caught my eye in spite of a reckless disregard for the old Italian food rule that fish should never be paired with cheese. One was red snapper crusted with Maryland crab cake and topped with asiago, and the other was mahi-mahi paired with goat cheese and gorgonzola as well as roma tomatoes and peppers.

Both fish rested on a puddle of red pepper aioli that provided just a little spicy kick. The creamy goat cheese and surprisingly fresh-tasting tomatoes worked as well on the firm, meaty mahi as they would on their own as a salad, and the hint of sweetness from the crab was welcome. There was no way I wasn’t going to like the snapper, given it was coated with the same mixture that makes Chappell’s crab cakes so wonderful. The crab is tender and plentiful in these succulent cakes, which are some of the best around, even though they are exorbitant at $10.95 each. The snapper was moist and flaky, and the more firm and chewy asiago blended well with the cake and received added textural diversity from some chopped red onion.

The pasta sides during both visits were rather mundane cream sauce-coated offerings with mushrooms, and the asparagus side option was nicely sautéed, but the best accompaniment was easily the green beans with gorgonzola. The beans were fresh and snappy, and the strong bits of melted gorgonzola clung to each much like cheddar would on a french fry.

The almond-crusted walleye fingers found favor with me as an appetizer – they were not at all oily with a crispy, thick, flavorful coating that had just the right nuttiness – but the same breading did not work as well with the gulf shrimp. They are also offered coconut-crusted, or you can order both styles together, which is what I chose. The coconut shrimp was a complete flop as there was little coconut to be seen or tasted on each plump prawn. The almond breading, like the walleye, had a good punch of nutty flavor, but those shrimp, like the coconut ones, shined with a layer of grease that made them a bit unappetizing and kept my napkin busy.

Chappell’s desserts, for the most part, have been handled by Gary’s sister-in-law Patty Burghoff for more than 20 years. Her flourless chocolate torte was sort of a dense, super-rich, fudgy cheesecake that went great with coffee but not so great on a belly already full of seafood. Her carrot cake was super moist and not overly spicy like some, but whoever plated it needs to stop using lime syrup to decorate the plates because lime syrup does not belong anywhere near carrot cake.

The best dessert Chappell’s had to offer was its simplest: Burghoff’s white wedding cake. It was moist, rich to the point of almost being buttery-tasting and reminded me of something my grandmother would have made.

I am sure that cake will make the trip out west. And Gary promises he will do his best to make sure the quaint, classic ambience the original Chappell’s has always had makes its way out there, too. His main hope for the new place is that it will help improve the service.

“That is the No. 1 thing we have struggled with since we reopened there,” he said of the Broadway location, which closed for a while after the new restaurant on Coldwater opened. “It is hard to get the quality of servers at such a small place.”

And, of course, he hopes that new location draws some new customers as well.

Restaurant: Chappell’s Coral Grill

Address: 2723 Broadway

Phone: 456-9652

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Cuisine: Steaks and seafood

Handicapped accessible: Yes, but restrooms are not

Alcohol served: Full bar

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Kid-friendly: No

Menu: Walleye fingers ($9.95), clam chowder ($4.95), crab slaw ($4.95), New York strip ($23.95), gulf shrimp ($19.94), desserts ($6)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the website, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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