At its loftier reaches, our dining universe contains restaurants of heroic scale presenting landmark cuisine; establishments intent on leaving their mark on mankind. They can be exciting to visit for interesting spaces and provocative dining. Then, at the lower end of the spectrum, there’s the fast-food genre, whose industrialized fare I strive to avoid.
Wedged between these extremes is a huge firmament of indies, intent on simpler satisfactions, whose goal is honest cuisine at prices that don’t empty your wallet. This is the niche in which Lakeside Bar & Grille resides. When you find a good neighborhood restaurant, it can be wonderful; this is why I was pleased to give Lakeside a try.
Lakeside is situated in a corner of Shrewsbury’s Quinsigamond Plaza ~ that strip mall anchored by Trader Joe’s. Just step out of Petco, and Lakeside Bar and Grille is at your left. The lake we’re referring to is, of course, Quinsigamond. You can’t even see it from the restaurant, but there’s really no need to get much closer than this.
On a cold and nasty winter Monday evening, my friend and I were surprised that Lakeside was even open for business. Imagine our surprise to find a waiting line that stretched right out onto the sidewalk. Murmurs rippled through the line that there would be a 40-minute wait for a table. Gasp, no way! There were even darker rumblings regarding the (apparent) no-reservation policy. Things looked bleak at Lakeside.
But that was all just idle rumor, and soon enough, we were seated. Robin, our server, arrived with warm welcomes, menus and a pitcher to fill our water glasses. Lakeside’s menu is weighted toward Italian but provides a framework to satisfy just about any taste ~ sandwiches, burgers, pasta, chicken, steak … you name it.
The menu also posted a schedule of daily special events. It turns out Mondays are Kids-Eat-Free Night. That explained the crowd; especially since it was school vacation week. And as I looked around, I realized the place was crawling with children, mostly well-behaved.
I started with a glass of Wormtown Brewery’s Seven Hills Pale Ale, and we dug into an appetizer of Fried Calamari, formatted Rhode Island style, with a dash of red pepper flakes, sliced banana peppers and garlicky oil. The deep-frying oil must have been fresh and pure; the flavor of our plateload of rings and tangle of tentacles wasn’t burdened by that heavy, oily flavor you get when the fryer’s been left untended too long.
Surprisingly, the calamari’s spicy flavor was derived more from the zesty banana peppers; the mild red pepper flakes teamed up with flecks of green parsley for an attractive confetti of color.
That was a good start, but it was the entrée course that truly proved Lakeside’s culinary proficiency. My friend ordered Haddock Française. Two thick fillets of tender, fresh fish had been quick-dipped in a mild egg batter, then sautéed to a light golden brown in a lemony caper sauce. The filets were attractively draped with strips of rich sun-dried tomatoes ~ usually over your choice of pasta. However, at my friend’s request, Robin happily substituted a baked potato for the pasta.
I went with something more basic ~ the Lakeside Sauté, made with shrimp (chicken’s another option). Simple in scope, the dish boasted a white wine sauce flavored with strips of spinach and chopped tomatoes that allowed the mild seafood flavor to shine through. And the chef wasn’t skimpy with the shrimp; at meal’s end, I counted eight tails. I chose to have my sauté served over a bed of linguini.
Both meals came with a thick slice of bread, sliced diagonally into triangles and toasted on the grill. The texture was unusually dense, and the flavor was buttery-rich. It was perfect for sopping up the delicious sauces of our entrees and provided a crunchy counterpoint. A Lakeside signature touch, I assume.
From my vantage point in the corner of the dining room, I watched plenty of families coming for dinner and groups of good friends meeting at the bar. Everything about Lakeside seems modest and straightforward; it’s the kind of place you could go to every night. Tuesdays are Meatloaf Night; count me in!
97 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury