Last week in this space, Jacqueline Kuder wrote about a place that fell short in living up to the mantra: "Have a plan; be consistent; and cook good food well."
This week, we're looking at a restaurant that takes that mantra and excels—Elliott's on Congress, which has its own mantra: "Creative food combinations and a relaxed atmosphere." That's the plan at Elliott's, and all seems to be going according to plan.
The simple food—the menu features appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and a few other entrées—is prepared well, and the dishes often feature a welcome twist. The drinks, many of which feature one of Elliott's signature vodka infusions, are tasty and inexpensive (and downright cheap during the abundant happy hours, when the prices for the specialty drinks go from $4.50 to $3). The service is friendly and efficient, and the vibe is upscale and chic, with a heavy helping of sports, thanks to the TVs on the wall and above the bar; the décor seems largely lifted from the building's former occupant, A Steak in the Neighborhood.
The one thing Elliott's was missing on my two visits was customers. Granted, we were there on an August Saturday for lunch, and an August Monday for dinner—not exactly hopping-busy times for any restaurant, especially during the streetcar-construction era, but there were between zero and three other tables occupied while we were there. Perhaps better marketing needs to be added to the aforementioned plan?
For lunch, we started with the street tacos with golden-battered cod ($7). The three tacos featured perfectly fried fish, along with corn, cabbage, tomatoes and a tartar-like sauce; they were excellent.
For main courses, Garrett got the Western burger with the buffalo-chicken pasta salad (other side choices are fries, jicama coleslaw, or a side salad; $9), and I ordered the Elliott's hot vodka pasta ($10). Garrett downright loved his burger; he considers the Western bacon cheeseburger at that one chain a guilty pleasure, and this version—featuring chipotle citrus barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar and fried onion crisps—was even better. He was a bit disappointed in the pasta salad; the chicken was bland despite the presence of hot sauce, although the side dish grew on him as he ate it.
I felt similarly about my hot-vodka pasta with bacon and parmesan. The campanelle pasta was joined by a sauce made with Elliott's house-infused basil vodka, and sadly, I didn't get a whole lot of basil. That would have helped a lot, because the bacon dominated the flavor—not a bad thing, but it made the dish one-note. However, the pasta also grew on me as I ate it. (The leftovers, with the addition of the richness from an over-easy egg that I added, were stellar.) The accompanying side salad and grilled bread were fine.
While we were mildly disappointed in the pasta dishes at lunch, there were no major disappointments at dinner. We were there during happy hour, and we decided to try one of the appetizers off of the "mini-menu," the duck sliders ($4). We also ordered an appetizer off the regular menu, the mussels marinara ($11). For mains, Garrett picked the "London calling," aka fish and chips ($12; comes with parmesan-garlic fries), while I went with the jalapeño BLT with regular fries ($9).
The two sliders featured pulled duck with more of that chipotle citrus barbecue sauce, and they were divine. When paired with the duck, the sauce approached, but did not cross, the "too sweet" line.
As for the mussels, they were also excellent. The menu says the mussels come with "a blend of fresh garlic, white wine and our house vodka sauce." I am not sure if that's precisely the same sauce that is in the hot vodka pasta, but the flavors here were more pronounced, and complemented the mussels well. (My only complaint is that some of the mussel shells broke in the cooking process, leading to a few hazards lurking in the sauce; the kitchen would be wise to check the dish a bit closer before delivery to the customer.)
Garrett, when it comes to fish and chips, is something of a Goldilocks: To make him happy, the fish needs to be tender, but not too greasy, and firm enough that it doesn't fall apart. The breading needs to be flavorful and crispy, but not too crispy. Well, to overextend the allusion, these three large beer-battered cod filets were juuuust right. The accompaniments were OK: The thin parmesan-garlic fries weren't all that different, flavor-wise, from my normal fries, while the jicama slaw was refreshing, although the red peppers dominated a bit too much for my taste.
My sandwich featured jalapeño bacon, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and jalapeño-ranch sauce on "Texas toast." It was a typically tasty BLT with a spicy kick—and it was splendid.
For dessert, we decided to try a piece of the chocolate-covered bacon ($2 for just the bacon on the "mini-menu"; $5 on the normal menu, with two pieces of bacon and vanilla ice cream). It's amazing how much the flavor profiles of bacon and chocolate overlap; the dessert, while presumably appalling in terms of fat content, was a nice treat.
While Elliott's isn't completely perfect, and management needs to find a way to get more customers in the doors, the folks at the restaurant seem to have a plan; the food and service are consistent; and they're cooking good food well. I'll be back.