Things are on the move around Forest Hill Park. The South of the James Market is in full swing and Music in the Park has started its monthly Sunday evening rotation. And next door to Crossroads Coffee in the former Seven Hills Market space, Parkside restaurant recently opened. A partnership of Brian Munford (Patina Grill) and chef and co-owner Travis Milton, Parkside brings an exciting and eclectic menu to a neighborhood more inclined to burger joints and coffee shops.
The space has taken on a new life, with two rooms of seating with booths and stand-alone tables. The interior is as varied as the menu, with a silver-painted tin ceiling, both antique and modern light fixtures and wall décor as wide-ranging as classical prints and paintings, a signed guitar and vintage beer cans. A chess board invites patrons to stay for a while.
As with the décor, some menu combinations work better than others. On a recent weeknight we’re greeted with friendly smiles. We start with a few appetizers — a blackened green tomato and pimento cheese sandwich ($7) that combines spicy heat with melted sweet pimento cheese on toasted bread that tastes house-made. The salad comes undressed, with a beaker of extra virgin olive oil and Hawaiian pink alaea salt in a pretty crystal salt cellar. I like the acidity of the grapefruit slices that complement the oil and goat cheese, but I wish the salad was completed with a dressing.
Entrees range widely from Southern comfort foods to a few Mexican and Indian dishes, with both meat and vegetarian options. I choose comfort — seared meatloaf ($16) with horseradish cream, collards, and macaroni and cheese. The meatloaf is tender, flavorful and juicy, studded with chunks of celery and carrots. What I don’t understand is the topping of ketchup when a perfectly tasty bowl of horseradish cream sits beside it. The collard greens are tender and have adequate vinegar, but the macaroni and cheese leaves a lot to be desired, especially cheese.
The vegetarian lasagna ($14) layers artichokes, spinach and three cheeses between tender pasta and comes artfully presented on a square black plate, surrounded by roasted asparagus and sprinkled with coarsely ground Parmesan. The flavors marry well, but the top layer is over-crisped and dry, perhaps from a reheat. A kids’ menu ($5-$6) has the usual suspects of quesadillas, spaghetti, and mac and cheese. Our 7-year-old graduates from the kids’ menu with a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich ($8), thick with ripe tomatoes, chewy bacon and a generous slather of mayonnaise.
Desserts are a high point. I can’t pass up bacon ice cream and it doesn’t disappoint. The saltiness of the bacon is a great partner to the sweet cream. The banana beignets ($7) are outstanding — crispy on the outside and densely moist on the inside. The accompanying crème fraîche ice cream is topped with thick chocolate sauce and pecan dust. Flourless chocolate-hazelnut torte ($7) is on the dry side, but packs a complex flavor and is accentuated by raspberry sauce and fresh whipped cream.
On a return trip for lunch with a friend, our meals are excellent. We start with two salads; roast beets with a honey-thyme vinaigrette and goat cheese over mixed greens ($7) embody earthy comfort, and a baby spinach salad with grilled shrimp and avocado ($9) is enhanced with a warm, bacon vinaigrette. Crab cakes ($12) are served with a tangy herb aioli and are laced with a bit of celery. They’re crispy on the outside and juicy within, nicely paired with three cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes.
Dessert is another hit — a seasonal berry crisp is topped with a creamy lemon zabaglione and sugar-coated mint leaves. It’s a sweet reminder of summer. On my way out, I chat with the chef who’s behind the restaurant, digging an irrigation ditch for the three-tiered garden that soon will supply fresh vegetables to Parkside’s menu, a harbinger of things to come.
While Parkside has a bit of tinkering to do on some dishes, its menu is generally interesting and well-executed. I look forward to returning to see how the new menu, to be unveiled in a few weeks, reflects what the kitchen is getting from the local farmers’ markets and what’s growing out back.
Parkside Café $$
3514 Forest Hill Ave.
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.