Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "Hungry I" Returns

The Hungry I
6060 Renaissance Place
Toledo, OH 43623

Even in the midst of a tough economy, talented restaurateurs can revitalize a strong brand. Gus Nicolaides and Moussa Salloukh recently reopened the "Hungry I" in the space on Holland-Sylvania that was built for the short-lived "Rouge" restaurant. They made a few minor changes including repainting the walls sage green and adding glass partitions between the bar and formal dining areas to break it up a bit. There is still a small private dining room but the communal bar table that was a massive split log is gone. The hard wood floors, leather chairs and white table cloths covered with butcher paper, create a welcoming atmosphere.

On my first visit, we sampled the french onion soup ($4.99) and the crab cakes ($11.99) as starters. According to a local expert on crab cakes hailing from twenty plus years in Virginia Beach, the best crab cakes are "more crab than cake". If this is the criterion, the Hungry I crab cakes are first rate and served with a tart remoulade sauce. The French onion soup is every bit of the warm, gooey, cheesy heaven that we've all come to expect. For dinner, we split the chicken Caesar wrap ($7.99) and a Southwestern burger ($9.99). The wrap was delicious. The burger did not come out as described on the menu with guacamole, bacon and spicy pepper jack. However, the server quickly offered to take it back and provide a substitute. I suspect that this, along with the array of kitchen shortages of featured items on the menu that night, is just a small hiccup during the opening weeks of the restaurant.

I returned a week later, and ordered the mushroom and Swiss burger ($8.99) that was cooked on a charcoal grill to a perfect medium-rare. The fries were crispy and good. I also sampled the shrimp soft taco entree ($11.99). The shrimp were a little undercooked but the spicy blend of avocado, red onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper has just the right amount of kick to demand a dollop of the house blended cilantro and green onion sour cream that is served with it. Again, I'm sure that Chef Brandon will bring all of the line cooks up to speed on this very quickly. I also enjoyed the tossed salad that comes with all entrees. The house lemon vinaigrette has a delicate flavor.

The last dish we tried was the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" ($10.99). It is prepared with a blend of four cheeses and a bit of bacon served on penne pasta in a fun, over-sized pasta bowl. Although the flavor is good, it felt like the order had been sitting for too long as the cheese had congealed and the pasta had lost all of it's texture. Once the kitchen team gets in to the groove of making it creamy and serving it quickly, the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" will become a staple shared at every table in the restaurant. You get a one pound box of pasta cooked for each order. I'm really not exaggerating here. It's enough pasta to share as a side dish for four people or a full meal for two. Order one "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" for your table - no matter what everyone wants to eat. If it arrives congealed tell your server that the Glass City Gourmet told you to, "send it back 'til it comes out creamy"! The concept is too good here to ever miss the mark again.

Our kind and attentive server, Kelly, informed us that none of the deserts available that evening were made in house. We tried the carrot cake ($5.50). Although it was a good quality, I had the feeling I was eating a slice of a cake that started its day in the freezer. My suggestion: skip dessert and try one of the currently featured cocktails. A "gingerbread martini" sounds like the perfect sweet treat to end a meal.

The Hungry I is a great spot to have lunch, go on a week night date, take your family for a quick bite, or meet your parents and grand parents for a strong drink and food that they will remember fondly from the first round of the Hungry I (circa 1975-84). There are a few interesting items on the menu for the more adventurous diner, but the focus is really on American classics: steaks, cedar plank salmon, ribs, salads and very hearty sandwiches. For old fans of the Oaken Bucket, the giant Reuben on marble rye is here and Gus didn't mess with a good thing.

While there is no dress code, seeing Gus walking the floor and running plates from the kitchen to tables demands respect. Leave your baseball cap in the car and change out of your sweats as someone will inevitably be sharing a special occasion at the Hungry I when you are there.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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