Artic temperatures don't usually draw me out to the windswept suburbs, but 20 Mile House was worth the trip. They offer plenty of choices in a very nice setting that's family friendly, but nice enough for a date. The broad, wood-trimmed ceiling beams add a nice historic touch without kitsch.
This was no night for a tiki bar drink. The icy air and the snowdrifts in the parking lot called for a swift warm-up, so I opted for an Irish coffee. The 20 Mile House does a flaming version that's prepared tableside. It certainly looked festive, but I had no time for showmanship. I was all about the thawing out, and the made-at-the-bar version did the trick.
We had a terrific appetizer that I'd have to rate two thumbs up. Appetizer choices range from the familiar, like Crispy Fried Calamari ($7.95) to the ubiquitous (Chicken Tenders, $6.95) and on to the somewhat intriguing Chicken Cigars ($7.95). We decided to give the Deep-Fried Mozzarella Risotto a shot ($6.95) since the "risotto" element sounded unique, and we were pleasantly surprised. These deep-fried snowballs had a wonderful, creamy (not gluey) center, and were nicely flecked with parsley.
Though barely warm enough, the Crab Bisque ($5.95) had a nice flavor and was garnished with a lump of honest-to-goodness crabmeat. There are also several treatments of shrimp among the openers, and chicken wings by the pound. In other words, good selections for sharing, and if you visited just for drinks and snacks, you'd have plenty of excellent options.
20 Mile House does a nice job on their side salads. There's some iceberg for crunch, but it's mixed with baby greens and topped with seeded cucumbers, grape tomatoes and paper-thin slices of red onion and carrots.
Both the house dressing, Raspberry Riesling Vinaigrette, and the low-fat choice, a sun dried tomato vinaigrette, were light enough to make the January dieter feel virtuous -- deep-fried snowballs aside.
I heard several servers mention that "20 Mile House is a steak house," and the selection of Black Angus steaks is pretty impressive. But we decided to go with a stick-to-the-ribs pasta dish on this arctic night. The Spinach Lasagne ($16.95) was steaming hot and bubbling with mozzarella and provolone. They used spinach pasta, and there were plenty of baby spinach leaves, fresh mushrooms and artichoke hearts layered in the middle. A heavy, satisfying dish.
There are no daily specials at 20 Mile House, so we went with another "chef recommended" entrée. The Bagged and Steamed Grouper ($21.95) is a parchment presentation that includes several nice-sized shrimp and scallops, and a champagne cream sauce. The fish was mild and pleasant, but definitely did not have the sweet, distinctive taste of grouper. I absolutely loved the side of grilled asparagus -- a generous portion of perfectly-cooked spears -- but the "smashed" Yukon gold potatoes had been prepared in a food processor and had a dreary, heavy texture. This is becoming my mantra, I know, but when I'm in this over-$20-entrée category, I get persnickety, and I don't want to have to leave my potatoes behind.
I'd be sorely tempted on another visit to go the burger route. The Portobello Burger ($8.95) is topped with a marinated, grilled giant mushroom and Gruyère cheese, and sounds fabulous. And for the poultry lover in my life, I imagine that the Sunflower Crusted Chicken with garlic cream sauce ($15.95) would not be amiss. Seems like just about anyone could find something to enjoy here.
Staying with the "Baby, it's cold outside" theme, we opted for the Hot Apple Crisp ($6.95) for dessert. Did I say hot? Whoa, Nelly, the ice cream nearly evaporated! The flavor was good though, and the crust was tender and easy. All in all, a good meal.
Service-wise? Our Jack-Black-esque server was competent, but I only think it's cute to be called "girls" once, or maybe twice. It got flat-out annoying after the hundredth time. So I tipped like a girl -- only 15 percent, where I usually would have gone higher. Bet he's not calling me a girl now -- instead, he's likely opting for something that rhymes with witch! But no hard feelings. 20 Mile House has a lot to offer, and if you're out in that neck of the woods, stop in for an Irish coffee or two. It'll warm the cockles of your heart. ©
20 Mile House
Go: 3159 Montgomery Road, Landen
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Prices: Moderate-expensive (steaks are well into the $20-$30 range)
Payment: Major credit cards
Other: No reservations, but will take 30-minute ahead calls for seating.
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty