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Main Street Café
660 Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, Pennsylvania
(610) 540-0501

Co-owner Jessica Morrison, now twenty-six, was eight years old when her father opened the first Baxter's Saloon and Eatery in Paoli. Which only goes to prove, if you'll pardon my paraphrase of the old adage: "You can take the girl out of Baxter's, but you can't take Baxter's out of the girl."

Not that there's anything wrong with Baxter's. Both the Paoli and Malvern locations are genial neighborhood gathering places majoring in a bustling bar scene, respectable "pub grub," and a limited number of straightforward entrée selections. These are good spots to enjoy a brew or glass of generic vino and chow down on a bodacious burger, salad, or tempting tuna melt. Main Street Café, however, which postures itself as an upscale urban bistro, clearly desires to rise above its elder siblings' humble origins... Unfortunately, for the most part, this establishment's reach exceeds its grasp.

If you've ever set food in a Baxter's, Main Street's interior prompts an immediate attack of déjà vu. But here the wood is darker — nicely contrasting with the exposed brick walls — the carpeting plusher, and the bar cozier. Decoratively speaking, this eatery puts its best foot forward; the food, however, finishes a distant second to the décor.

Entrées run the gamut... and that should be the tip-off. The kitchen attempts too many things to do anything particularly well. Possibilities range from Japanese steak ($19.95) to Cajun scallops ($15.95) to meatloaf "just like mom used to make" ($9.95) to a list of backboard specials.

Typical of the chef's largesse is the "Catch of the Day," which may be prepared baked with a honey/pecan crust, amandine, piccata, or blackened. The grouper piccata ($17.95) — sautéed with white wine, lemon, and capers — sounds easy enough; its execution, however, can be something of sticky wicket. In this case, the fish is perfectly cooked, but the sauce is overly viscous and far too assertive for its own — and the diner's — good. The accompanying red bliss garlic mashed potatoes are incredibly gloppy and the broccoli and cauliflower florets are underdone and their "piled on" presentation about as attractive as the regurgitation of an endangered species.

Two other piscatorial offerings fare somewhat better... though not a great deal. A slightly fishy salmon filet is stuffed with crab imperial and blanketed with an over-the-top hollandaise sauce ($16.95), and the shrimp and scallops ($17.95), another blackboard special, are beautifully grilled but sabotaged by an odd epicenter of mango/pepper relish.

Seafood, as you have undoubtedly surmised, is not this kitchen's strong suit. And since the chef/co-proprietor, Thai Dang, is a native of Vietnam, I'd stick with simpler dishes or those with an Asian flair. The Asian kebabs adorned with teriyaki gravy ($20.95) are a good bet... ditto the sizzling strip steak ($19.95) and "Drunken Shrimp" ($14.45) intoxicated with dark rum and served up on a bed of pasta.

Appetizers include slightly greasy Vietnamese spring rolls ($6.95), garlicky bruschetta on a toasted banguette ($4.75), generic spinach salad with warm bacon dressing ($5.75), and a number of "Seafood Teasers": calamari rings with marinara ($8.45), shrimp wrapped in bacon ($8.45), mussels ($7.45), and pan-seared tuna with a cucumber/wasabi dipping sauce ($8.65).

The aforementioned comments (both positive and negative) notwithstanding, if you decide to put in an appearance here, my advice is to cut your culinary losses by keeping matters as simple as possible. Cast your lot with the so-called "pub grub," which is clearly the summit of this kitchen's limited capabilities, and you probably will not be disappointed.

This means starting things off with some old standbys: potato skins ($6.75), chicken tenders ($6.75), or mozzarella sticks with marinara ($6.75). Hardly innovative, but also guaranteed not to cause any permanent peristaltic pollution. Then you can move on to a "Create a Club (sandwich)" — turkey ($6.95), chicken salad ($7.25), tuna salad ($6.95) — classic B.L.T. on sourdough bread ($5.75), respectable Reuben filled with either corned beef or turkey ($6.95), or one of the establishment's all-American hamburgers. The Reuben and burgers are accompanied by a side of killer French fries, which could very well constitute this kitchen's single claim to fame.

July 2004

The Artful Diner

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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