Restaurant review: Red Hook Grill is a restaurant upgrade for a neglected section of Grandview

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From the November 7, 2013 edition

Having dinner at the newish Red Hook Grill kinda reminded me of being in high school. See, every time I ate there I sorta felt like I’d dined in the home of one of my old friends whose mom was a good everyday cook — only at Red Hook, I had to pay restaurant prices for the experience.

Occupying a welcoming-enough boxy space in a drab commercial stretch of Grandview, Red Hook does have a scholastic connection, but it’s collegiate. That’s because Kathy Barklow, Red Hook’s proprietor, owns a successful business (Home Catering) that specializes in feeding OSU fraternities and sororities. This no-doubt hard-won experience serves the vegetarian-friendly Red Hook Grill well as its fare generally arrives in a timely manner.

Ambiance-wise, Red Hook is a quiet neighborhood place where locals trickle in amid extremely casual seating and beach-vacation-type photographs (Red Hook is named after an area on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands). Radio hits and ESPN play. It’s comfy enough, but if you’re looking for “‘vibrant, cool and hip,” you should look elsewhere. Mood altering-wise, there are a few wines and cocktails, but I’d stick to the serviceable bottled beer list, where IPAs from Red Hook (no relation) and Smutty Nose can arrive in a chilled glass and be purchased for $3.50 during happy hour (4-6:30).

“Shareables” get a HH discount too — of $2 off — which made the vegan potato skins $5.75. Served with a stiff and garlicky hummus, my hollowed-out spud shells exhibited a wonderful, crackling tater flavor and crunch and picked up more character from toppings of red pepper, broccoli and fake cheese. Too bad the skins were literally leaking grease.

The shareably large and recommended Spinach Salad ($5.25) featured a sharp homemade vinaigrette, sliced apples, lots of pecans and crispy bacon bits. Nice.

Red Hook’s housemade, oat-chipped Black Bean Burger ($8.75) not only held together very well, but it’s one of the better versions around. Topped with avocado, it’s Southwestern accented and packed with celery, carrots and cilantro. Enjoy it with top-notch hand-cut Sweet Potato Fries for an extra $1.75, but pass on the sweet, viscous and unnecessary “cinnamon butter.”

Though its toasted soft Kaiser roll was dissolving, my big, juicy and no-nonsense Red Hook Burger ($8.75) delivered honest, hand-pattied ground beef flavor. It came with all the fixings plus pepper jack and provolone cheeses. For sides (an extra $4 altogether), I went with baked beans (too sweet, and tasted like “doctored-up” pre-fabbers) and a neat, sweetened-vinegar-based, mayo-free slaw strewn with cranberries, red peppers, celery seed and more.

Since my waiter — who was friendly, but curiously answered most questions with “Let me go check on that” — pronounced the Mac & Cheese ($8.75) popular, I tried it with a sliced chicken breast add-on ($4 extra). Not bad. I liked its heat-blistered cheese cap, and the heavily sauced soft pasta tubes certainly weren’t lacking for cheese.

On the relative pricey side is the Jambalaya ($14.75, served atop a lot of white rice). Its thyme-kissed, stewed tomato base was further flavored with pulled chicken, some OK shrimp, smoky sausage discs and plenty of rustically hacked celery, peppers and onion. Served with garlicky toasted pita wedges, the un-shy bowl was pretty fun to eat — you know, like something that good-cooking mom of your high school chum might’ve whipped up.