The playground antics at 1409 N. Orange Ave. in Ivanhoe Village have seen yet another restaurant (Nova) stumble off the merry-go-round and yet another (Stir) hop on. I don't mean to kick sand in the face of Stir, but after the post-Brian's Diner failures of Elliot's Public House and Nova Scratch Kitchen, offering a remarkably similar experience doesn't seem to be the tack to take for success.
Sure, the classic rock (and classic rock art) lends a more casual mien to the restaurant, but otherwise very little has changed, and change may be key to Stir's survival. It needs an antidote to the toxic same old-same old. Ivanhoe Village deserves a true destination restaurant, and this space has all the potential. How about a refresh (of the already recent refresh) of the interior? Or changing the concept from "Classic American" to modern Peruvian? No? Less food, more liquor? Tapas? Tacos?
OK, enough with the off-the-cuff restaurant consulting and on to Stir's food. It's of the standard gastropub variety – that is, the fare doesn't necessarily disappoint, but doesn't particularly excite either. Two starters came highly touted by our server, and we were quite taken by the pretty pork-cheek puff pastry ($8) posing atop a pool of cheek jus. It's flaky, fetching and full of flavor, but served at room temperature, it tended to lose some of its luster. The other – canoe-cut marrow bones ($17) with bleu cheese and sautéed mushrooms – sat atop black napkins (why?) on a plate with pickled radish and pickled green beans. Most of the marrow, unfortunately, had melted, resulting in an oil-slicked mess, likely the result of over-roasting. The price wasn't exactly commensurate with quality, either – not when you can get the best roasted Cowart Ranch beef marrow with oxtail and fig marmalade at the Pharmacy for $1 more.
Were the strips of coulotte steak seasoned more, the blackjack salad ($18) could make a winning lunchtime, or dinnertime, decision. The spring mix is fresh, the red and yellow cherry tomatoes plump, the onions caramelized, and the cheese dressing bleu. The resto-ubiquitous short ribs ($23), braised in stout and glazed with a subtly sweet cherry 'cue sauce, were absolutely proper. So were the purple fingerling potatoes, but the heavily breaded asparagus spears? Umm, no. And def no when the asparagus is stringy.
No such issue with the sous-vide bone-in pork chop ($20), though it was a little dry even with a shellac of apple-cider gastrique. Smoky collards and cheesy stone-ground grits give the dish a Southern charm. There's a bit of that charm in the towering banana-chocolate cake ($6) as well, and it's worth dropping by the restaurant at night to sample the sweet along with a digestif out on the patio.
There's an idea – an aperitif and digestif bar! At the very least, it'd give the joint a defining feature because, as it stands, the restaurant only works if you like your meal staid, not stirred.