Highlights of the appetizer menu are the dips that come paired with fresh focaccia chips. A roasted-red-pepper hummus and a hot crab-and-artichoke dip are both flavorful and large enough to share among friends. But the menu also reflects a desire to show a refined taste, and for a 10-table bistro run by a chef who attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the results fall far short of cutting edge.
There are plenty of good, safe options on the entree list. The Hermitage serves a nice tortilla-encrusted catfish, a straightforward lasagna and good cuts of filet and prime rib. Everything is as it should be hearty and well-executed, if perhaps a bit on the over-seasoned side. But that's to be expected given the smokiness of the environment and the effect that has on the palate of customers and cooks.
Lack of subtlety is something of a trademark at Hermitage Grill. It's when the menu reaches for delicacy that things take a turn for the worse. Consider the sautéed shrimp with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions served over grits. Under the best of circumstances, I'm not sure how a delicate flavor like shrimp is supposed to stand up to the power of blue cheese. These are not the best of circumstances; this dish failed from the first bite, which turned out not to be a pale shrimp but a pungent chunk of Gorgonzola bigger than my thumb.
Equally disappointing was the chef's decision to garnish everything with sriracha, the intensely spicy Asian version of Tabasco. Not everyone likes it quite so spicy, and though it offers a rich splash of red, sriracha alters the flavor of some dishes in unfortunate ways. For example, eggs Benedict. At Hermitage Grill, you can get nearly every imaginable variation of the classic Sunday staple every variation except the original Canadian bacon. You can try crab cake, filet of beef, even jerk tuna in a hollandaise bath atop an English muffin. Unusual, right? Now imagine a haphazard squiggle of hot sauce. Oh, and add to the mix the knowledge that all of these meats appear on the regular dinner menu.
Other oddities available at brunch include a bacon cheeseburger frittata and a barbecue omelet. Those who have not read Anthony Bourdain's description of various inventory-clearing brunch practices in "Kitchen Confidential" might want to put that book on their reading list.
So is it worth a trip to this bright yellow hole-in-the-wall? If you're looking for highbrow, the answer is no. Despite the Fiestaware and sriracha, this is not the Millie's of the North Side. And if you live clear across town, the best of Hermitage Grill may be wasted on you, because first and foremost, this is a neighborhood hangout, and it's the charming quirks of the menu, the service and the scene that keep the tables filled. So to all the locals who turn to the Hermitage Grill as a spot to let down, chill out and fill up, don't worry. We're not going to spoil it. S
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