They say every house has a story, be it old, charmed, sordid, or scary. Whatever the story, it always reads kind of like a personal ad: "Tiny cottage with bad wiring, cracked foundation, and asbestos needs TLC, nuclear family, and station wagon to regenerate to former glory." Just the same, no burger joint, steak house, sushi train, or truck stop is immune to a little colorful past and character. Having that extra bit of funk or flair definitely adds to the overall experience (as long as the funk isn't a dead bug or stray hair) and sometimes even the quality of the food.
© Siiri Sampson 2011. This could have been a delicious log cabin, but alas, these polenta fries were too hot, crispy, and creamy to sacrifice for play time.
Along with experience in the food world comes either wisdom or baggage that adds to the story. If a restaurant has years of experience, chances are they've made some mistakes and changes and taken some risks over the years. Gather too much baggage in a restaurant, and the doors will close quicker than you can say "Hold the mayo." Here's a story
of a lovely lady about a small-town eatery with worldly flair.
The house itself sits inside a twisty, turny little shopping plaza made up of numerous houses (now shops) and random one level mid-century buildings all situated just on the other side of the train tracks--I kid you not. Inside the four walls, the rooms of the house all serve multiple functions, with literally hundreds of beer and wine varietals climbing the walls and cozy green tables tucked in every nook and corner.
Here's where the story gets a little Pick-Your-Own-Adventure. Rather than focusing on a certain genre of cuisine, Red House offers family-style and single-serving dishes and tapas on a global scale. Choose Ending A, and there's a selection of caliente and frio tapas like baked goat cheese ($9), shrimp risotto croquettes ($9), and chipotle deviled eggs for a wine-tasting, a catch-up with friends, or a quick bite on the go. With French, American, and Italian variations (like the chicken penne piccata, $13) on old classics, anyone can find something to bite into.
© Siiri Sampson 2011. Like peas and carrots, grilled cheese and tomato soup just make sense. Especially when the grilled cheese has smoked gouda, white cheddar, and mozzarella on it.
Choose Ending B and get the triple grilled cheese on crusty artisan bread with smoked gouda, white cheddar, and mozzarella, with tomato, basil, and spinach soup ($8) for the less adventurous. Whatever adventure you choose (and there are at least 30), make sure it includes the sweet-pepper and scallions polenta fries with marinara and garlic-caper aioli ($7). Bigger, crunchier, and polenta-ier than expected, this is one tapas that can actually feed the whole table.
Red House's story is deeper than just "service with a smile," although their servers are patient and thorough. This place is all about carrying the best labels (in every price range) of beer and wine from around the world, cataloging and sharing them with connoisseurs and novices alike. Rather than up charging the crap out of a bottle as most restaurants would, they let you buy the bottle from their retail side and simply charge a $5 corking fee. This place is actually good enough to get in the car and drive out of the city for--more so in summer when you can sit on the patio, throw some steamed clams and crab cakes down your gullet, and wait for the train.