Restaurant of the Week: Savoy Tavern and Bistro
by: ©2006 DAVID PLECHL, Savoy’s seasonal appetizer of pumpkin fritters sets off sweet flavor explosions that are well-accompanied by an IPA.

When I was a little girl, my family used to eat Sunday brunch nearly every week at the Rexmont Riding Club. It was a second-story restaurant (to seat customers slightly farther away from the horse odors wafting outside) with expansive views of the rural Pennsylvania countryside.

After tearing through the basket of crackers and the dish of 'relish' (cut vegetables in mild vinegar), I always ordered the fried chicken with a rotating starch of baked potato, mashed potatoes or rice.

I don't know if it was really that good, but in my memory the chicken was perfect: The crunchy, textured crust stayed put on the juicy leg and breast, thus every bite offered the ideal mix of flesh and skin.

I haven't ordered fried chicken at a restaurant since.

But I've been tempted to try the Sunday night-only fried chicken at Savoy, since the atmosphere at this casual neighborhood bistro makes it seem like a place you could go week after week. Sometimes they even bring small saucers of vegetables with dip to the table as a pre-ordering nibble.

There's no children's menu, but a shocking number of diners come lugging unwieldy car seats filled with tiny creatures. Savoy feels like a grown-up place (it's attached to a dark, narrow bar that serves the full menu until the bistro closes and then a limited menu until the tavern shuts down), but older kids should like the mix of familiar comfort food.

I'm also curious about the Friday night fish fry, in which chef Alton Garcia invokes the Midwest food gods and fries up whatever seasonal fish passes muster and serves it with fries and coleslaw.

If you're a fan of flyover country cooking, whatever else you order, don't forgo the fried cheddar cheese curds. Served in a paper-lined cone, they're best eaten hot so there's no need to refrain from popping one after another into your mouth like peanuts.

Garcia now is featuring another addictive appetizer of seasonal pumpkin fritters, tender little balls with sweet and smooth squash filling served with (a too small amount of) tangy apple cider cream.

Herbal green goddess salad dressing makes a rare and welcome appearance in the salad column.

I'd like to try the steamed mussels in an aromatic saffron-mustard broth but my typically generous son absolutely refuses to share even one. He's also a fan of the grilled top sirloin with a mild horseradish cream.

On my last visit I ordered a special of chicken pot pie, a dish so old-fashioned they didn't even have it in Rexmont. This version was modernized with a bed of greens and puff pastry perched like a beret atop the stew of chicken and mushrooms.

The suppers, which also include light pan-fried trout and Flintstones-inspired braised lamb shank in a hearty sauce of red wine, rosemary and olives, come with a choice of two sides. These include another Midwestern favorite, succotash; dill-flavored tomato bisque; greens cooked into submission; or decadent mac and cheese.

For dessert, I choose from the changing selection of cookies. They might not be as good as those my mom made, but they're pretty close. Maybe I should give that fried chicken a try.

-Audrey Van Buskirk

2500 S.E. Clinton St., 503-808-9999, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $9-$14

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