Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rider’s 1812 Inn and Grill

792 Mentor Ave
Painesville, OH 44077
(440) 354-8200

by Beau Cadiyo

Following up on Scarlet’s post about burgers:

Heated Barbecue Sauce. A minor luxury.

I expected interesting things from Rider’s 1812 Inn. After all, it was built in 1812 on what used to be a major stagecoach line; upon first walking in, from the pouring rain, the inside could have been filled with men and women who participated in the Revolution. The old wood, careful lighting and low ceilings gave me the feeling that I was in a building frozen in time; the fact that it was completely empty added to the sense that we were trespassing in both place and century.

After a few minutes of wandering, a hostess appeared. Yes, they were serving lunch; yes, we could sit in the old part (as opposed to the new bit, built in the early 1900s; yes, the specials were as advertised on the board. She was new, and had only been there a few days; later, we learned that the cook was brand new, too. Such turnover made us slightly suspicious. We were also suspicious of the “Freedom Fries” on the menu – it was the first time I’d actually seen them called “Freedom Fries,” although I’d sarcastically ordered them before in other restaurants. Frank Becker ordered a burger without the fries simply because she didn’t want anything so absurd.

While we waited, a woman wandered past us, back and forth, muttering to herself. It seemed polite not to mention it.

The food came out in waves, which was quaint and endearing rather than amateurish. My burger, ordered with Pepper Jack cheese, onions, mushrooms and bacon on top, was perfectly done, with well-mixed ingredients, crunchy bacon and tender beef. The herb bread bun made it more exotic than I would have expected considering the post-Colonial setting, but was a welcome and delicious modification. The fries were perfect, and the green beans were cooked with bacon, which kept our Muslim member from eating them but meant I got his share. They were crisp, hot and sweet, with the right balance between bacon and green beanniness that almost prevented identification of the bacon while making it noticeable.

When Frank Khan asked for barbecue sauce, it took a while for it to come out. When it did, it was served in miniature tureens. Reason: the barbecue sauce was heated. Until Rider’s, I viewed condiments as mere flavors. Their sauciness, while clearly adding texture and temperature, seems designed to interfere as little as possible in ways besides adding flavor. Liquidity allows them to seep into small pockets of the sandwich or get absorbed by the bread, something cheese, meat and vegetables fail at. Perhaps they even make bites more satisfying by making them more substantial, without the airiness one always associates with onion slices and around the edges of tomatoes.

But temperature modification was something new. Of course, barbecued burgers have hot barbecue sauce, but this was the first time I’d seen it heated it in a restaurant – this practice should be emulated across the land. I began to imagine the possibilities of modifying barbecue sauce, with more spices – peppers, or rosemary. Or, perhaps, barbecue sauce in solid form, as shavings of flavor, sticking to one’s teeth and flavoring every bite beyond just the burger. The possibilities, while not limitless, were exciting nonetheless.

We paid up and walked out into the rain, 1.5 hours after we’d entered. The service, while not fast, and maybe not totally professional, was fun and interesting, and the food was delicious and innovative – something we didn’t expect to find in a place built almost 200 years ago.

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