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492 Danforth Ave.
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Classic American cuisine takes the field at this clever, comfy King West restaurant, where hearty, smarty mains like the Kentucky Fried Handshake Sandwich and Bones in a Bucket live up to their quirky billing. Vintage American cocktails like The Derby and Remember the Maine make drinking a sport. And the premises themselves, decked out in original chalk drawings and works-of-art light fixtures, make every meal a home run.
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Review: God Bless America

 
By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on September 19, 2013

I am probably the sole foodie on the planet who didn't go gaga over La Carnita, the much-loved Mexican taqueria in Little Italy. I conceded it was a great concept, but for all the hype, I thought I was being overly generous with my mediocre rating.

Hoping no...

I am probably the sole foodie on the planet who didn't go gaga over La Carnita, the much-loved Mexican taqueria in Little Italy. I conceded it was a great concept, but for all the hype, I thought I was being overly generous with my mediocre rating.

Hoping no grudges (or firearms) are being held by owner Andrew Richmond, I braved a visit to his latest outpost, Home of the Brave. Another great concept, but this time firing on all cylinders. Chef Nathan Middleton (former La Carnita sous chef) turns out some mighty sweet American comfort food: smoked pork belly and fried bologna sandwiches ($9), 20 oz. 40 day-aged New York strip ($50) and tater tots ($5). Paired with a Jack Daniels Coke slushy or a Wizard of Oz cocktail ($12) with artichoke liqueur, sherry, lime and orange bitters, courtesy of Alex Renshaw of Drumbar in Chicago, they hit the guilty pleasure neural receptors bang on, especially after my squeaky clean lunch of steamed kale, shoyu tofu and red quinoa without dressing.

That said, Home of the Brave does serve three salads, god bless 'em, including a classic wedge ($11), which truly is the only reason that iceberg lettuce need exist. But in a moment of sheer culinary whimsy, chef mixes in micro greens to make this one dynamite opener topped with spirals of heirloom carrots, two pieces of superbly smoked, practically fat-free pork belly (how is that possible?) and parmesan. Not only is it beautiful to behold, but what's even more remarkable is the substitution of the typically cloying blue cheese goop with a light 'n creamy Greek yogurt dressing studded with fresh dill. A stylized classic that proves this kitchen aims to offer up something a bit out of the ordinary, even if its influence is All American retro fare.

Forgoing the ubiquitous lobster roll ($10, $18, $27), we switch gears and move further south for a sampling of a Kentucky fried handshake sandwich ($13). Spoiler alert: it's served with a deep-fried chicken foot, which is très cool even if a bit creepy, yet it's uncanny how KFC-like the coating is. A fresh sesame bun squishes down on a crunchy, peppery, thick breading that never falls away from the meat. More shredded iceberg adds the requisite trailer park touch as does a heavy dose of mayo that looks like it's been out of the bottle a tad too long. But this is one of the rare instances where a chicken sandwich needs no accoutrements. Plus, a side of darn good homemade Louisiana hot sauce is available should you really feel it necessary.

Bones in a bucket ($18) is just a fun way of saying ribs. What's special is that you get a tossing of both thick, soft beef and pork ribs with a Kansas City rub that's has worked itself into the meat for 24 hours. They arrive with house-pickled carrots and celery, and a tangy, outrageously good homemade ranch dressing that's as addictive as Heisenberg's Blue Sky.

And it's all about the details even for vegetables sides. An order of buffalo cauliflower ($7) is as super satisfying a wings-substitute for vegetarians as it could possibly get. A perfect beer coating is crisp and holds on with every bite to reveal the toothsome crucifer within. And more of that ranch dressing and hot sauce for dipping and/or injecting.

Broccoli the size of trees and grits ($11) could only be better if I were in actually eating it the deep South on the porch overlooking the magnolias. Creamy like a perfectly cooked risotto, with thinly sliced green onion, a smoked cheese sauce and an Old Milwaukee mushroom gravy makes this diner dish as complex as it is satisfying.

Desserts are completely over the top and veer perilously close into Paula Deen territory: ice cream cookies ($5) and red velvet funnel cake ($5) will have you delirious from the sugar rush. The thick, crumbly chocolate chip cookies surround what seems like half a tub of homemade cookie-dough ice cream that's been rolled in crushed Oreos. Oh, and it's the size of a bacon double cheese burger. The red (white and blue) velvet funnel cake festooned with a truckload of macerated blueberries and strawberries, a cream cheese icing and an epic vanilla bourbon ice cream reveals a very deft hand in this kitchen despite the excess.

Home of the Brave, whose motto is, fittingly, Join or Die, does pretty much everything right at its trendy King West clubland locale. Even the décor is delicious, down to the graffiti, not to mention the hot, heavily-inked servers. The one thing I would reconsider is chef's decision to not wear a net over his long ZZToppish beard. It may be frickin' awesome, but it comes precariously close to brushing the plates. I'll let it pass though. Consider me a member. and  God Bless America.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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