2 Canal St., Westerly
Open Sun-Thurs, 5-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
When youíre in a full teeth-tingling mode, carnivore genes at attention and saluting, thereís nothing like a chop shop. The sub-head Dylanís sign is "Steaks & Seafood," a peculiarly American designation. More often than not, in my experience, such restaurants tend to consider their responsibility to feed you as akin to patriotic duty.
The family restaurant touches at this place bolster that impression. Walls of weathered barn board and brick make for an informal mood, and behind the salad bar ó another family restaurant obligation ó curtained French doors are a pleasant, girly touch which balance the overall guy-ish atmosphere. Proprietors Cathy Bridgeman and Chris Blackmer have taken pains with such little touches. The bar is in a separate room but connects without a door into the dining area, working against Dylanís smoke-free claim. Given the pub ambiance, be prepared for an urge to talk sports here: Johnnie not only got a yen for nachos, she ordered a black and tan. (Guinness and Bass are both on tap. Wine-drinkers get a modest number of choices, too.)
The arriving basket of "Aunt Kimís Nachos" ($6.95) was bountiful ó too much for us to finish ó and with cheese in the middle of the corn chips as well as on top. The accompanying salsa and sour cream ó and guacamole, if you want ó come as sides, so your chips are in no danger of sogginess. Appetizers are mostly bar food, with a few exceptions popping out, such as Maryland crab cakes ($7.95), and an interesting bruschetta ($5.95), with pesto under the plum tomatoes and mozzarella. One item that probably migrated from success on the entree column is a small portion of penne in vodka sauce ($4.95).
Endless visits to the salad bar come with the entrées and pasta dishes. Unlike places that offer a Southern-style array ó 1001 items, from artichoke hearts to pickled zucchini ó Dylanís salad bar sticks to basic, but welcome choices: iceberg or mesclun, chickpeas and pickled beets, the most exotic add-in being delicious little red peppers that look hot but taste sweet. You slice your own tasty Italian bread.
The pastas tempted Johnnie, so she succumbed. You may have fettuccine, linguini, or penne done up in any of eight preparations, including an unusual concoction of tenderloin tips au poivre ($16.95), in a peppercorn cream sauce. My dining companion felt like having a simple fettuccine Alfredo ($12.95). She considered taking advantage of the wood grill, whose aromatic smoke was drifting to our nearby table, and adding either shrimp or chicken (an extra $4 or $2, respectively). Instead, she chose bleu cheese ($1 more). Asking that it be on the side rather than crumbled on top, she got nearly a cupful. The pasta was cooked properly, and Johnnie called the sauce, "The best Iíve had in a long time" ó creamy, but not cloying.
In the grand American who-says-you-canít-have-it-all tradition, I scratched my head over whether to get the surf & turf ($21.95) with two stuffed shrimp, or the turf and turf ($19.95), with chicken. Both come with eight-ounce sirloins. I went for the latter and was pleased with both the flavorful Black Angus steak, cooked medium-rare as requested, and the teriyaki chicken breast. Seven sauces and seasonings are available for $2 more, from Bernaise to Cajun. Intrigued by the "blackjack sauce," I ordered some to dip into on the side, a good decision: the burned-off Jack Danielís mellowed it, and the pepper didnít overpower the flavor.
If youíre in the mood for it, much of the fun of a friendly place can come from there being actual friendly people at the next table. Fellow foodies David and Nancy, from Niantic, Connecticut, had been here before and liked the place enough to come back. Soon, my new best friend Dave and I learned that we had the same pet restaurant peeve: pork chops automatically cooked to cardboard because some customers are stuck in the 1950s, worrying about trichinosis. His thick chop special wasnít pink, but it was moist, to our mutual relief. His Key lime pie wasnít as tart as he likes it, but after all, "Youíre in Rhode Island," Dave forgivingly explained. Across the table, his wife Nancy was impressed with the amount of lobster chicken Newport ($17.95) ó two claws plus. Her well-enjoyed Mississippi mud pie was also smiled over.
Since most of the desserts here are of the greatest hits variety that commercial restaurant suppliers usually provide, I was surprised to learn from our particularly helpful waitress, Ruth, that another waitress, Carrie Sylvia, makes them all: Coconut cream pie, peanut butter pie, and Oreo cheesecake. We chose a departure from convention, bananas flambé ($5.95) and were well satisfied. The fruit slices were sautéed in butter, with rum added, all atop vanilla ice cream. Yum.
Dylanís, with their steaks, seafood, and everything else, is into more than Cucina Americana ó itís into doing things right. What could be more patriotic than that?
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at billrod@ reporters.net.