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The Lucky Moose
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Moose’s fare never disappoints

The more things change, the more they stay the same is the saying.

At The Lucky Moose on Dupont Road, the cliché fits like a glove.

Once a Munchie Emporium, then Lucky’s Terrapin Grill and now the Moose, it has had three identities over the last decade, but at its heart, it is still much like it was at the beginning – a familiar-feeling place with a fun atmosphere and a menu to please all types, especially those who prefer lighter fare.

The Lucky Moose has a great salad bar featuring three kinds of greens and many out-of-the-ordinary ingredients. And the menu has everything from chicken wings to flatbreads to sushi with an ever-changing specials board.

I couldn’t resist the Friday night special of all-you-can-eat tilapia or catfish prepared three ways – fried, grilled or blackened. I chose catfish and tried blackened and the cornmeal-crusted and fried, and both were fantastic. The blackened filets were seared until black on one side – a rarity these days as a lot of places wrongfully use “blackened” to describe anything with spicy seasonings. The fatty fish was moist and succulent and the spices used added just a hint of heat. The cornmeal-crusted was even better with a salty, crunchy exterior giving way to the same unctuous fish inside.

The only thing that could have made the meal better was a piece of the Moose’s cornbread on the side. The moist, brown-sugar dotted bread, a recipe from owner Mark Melchi’s repertoire, was served with my Buffalo meatballs appetizer. Sadly, the bread was the best part. The meatballs, although there were a lot of them, were tiny once-frozen ones. The Buffalo sauce was great as was the crumbled bleu cheese covering them, but without homemade meatballs, it was not worth having again.

The coconut scallops were much better. The plump, sweet shellfish were about as big around as a quarter and were coated with crunchy browned strings of coconut that added even more sweetness. They came with a spicy-sweet Thai chili sauce that was unnecessary.

The Thai part of the Thai chicken flatbread made it one of the best examples of The Lucky Moose’s eclectic menu. The thin crispy bread was smeared with a sweet, creamy peanut sauce and topped with chunks of tender chicken breast; julienne carrots, cabbage and onion; and fresh cilantro, which added a wonderful flavor.

Although no longer affiliated with Moosewood Smokehouse, The Lucky Moose is still incorporating a smoker. Smoked chicken and cheddar cheese is on the salad bar and the cheese can be requested on pizzas. The only smoked item I tried was “The Moose,” a burger described as, “About a hundred pounds of ground beef stuffed with cheddar cheese and onion; hickory smoked and served on a toasted Kaiser roll.”

It wasn’t as monstrous as the menu made it sound, but it did have two well-done patties with the cheese and onion sandwiched between them, and a nicely toasted roll that I enjoyed eating on its own kind of like a side of garlic toast. It was more like a meatloaf sandwich as the patties had been cut a little with Panko bread crumbs and had onions baked into them. The smoke and spices used in the meat gave it a lot of flavor that, when combined with the smoky cheese and sweet onions, made condiments unnecessary.

The décor of The Lucky Moose is one thing that hasn’t changed with the name. It is still pretty cool with a hodgepodge of antiques, photos and oddball items like fiberglass sharks hanging from the ceiling, Christmas lights and movie posters. The only subtle change is that nearly all of the pop culture photos on the walls – from Paris Hilton to Richard Nixon to Simon Cowell – are now sporting moose antlers.

The service could have been better, but wasn’t really bad. It just seemed like my servers were struggling to keep up even when the crowd was sparse.

But one of them was kind enough to suggest the bread pudding for dessert, which I did not see on the menu.

A carryover from his Moosewood days, Melchi’s bread pudding is the best I have had.

It is rich and custardy, and its sweet bourbon sauce is to die for. Regardless of what name is on the door, as long as that dessert doesn’t change, I will always have a reason to go back to The Lucky Moose.

Restaurant: The Lucky Moose

Address: 622 E. Dupont Road

Phone: 490-5765

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Menu: Coconut scallops ($6.99), Buffalo meatballs ($6.99), “The Moose” burger ($7.99), Thai chicken flatbread ($7.99), catfish dinner ($10.99), Lucky Moose Salad with chicken ($6.99), bread pudding ($4.99)

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

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. Email him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.