When I heard about Virgil’s Cafe in Bellevue, it sounded like just the type of restaurant I’d like. It’s nice and clean but casual, and chef Matthew Buschle focuses on fresh local and seasonal ingredients.
Buschle is obviously passionate about what he does. He took on the huge project of turning a run-down apartment building into an inviting space in which to realize his vision of serving accessible, creative and well-prepared food without a high price tag.
It’s not often that I find myself eating in restaurants in Kentucky, after a couple incidents I’ve had involving a cloud of cigarette smoke hitting my nose upon entering an establishment. Ugh! But have no fear: Virgil’s is a nice little place to go to avoid that culinary atrocity.
So much on its menu sounds so good, and it seems there’s something for everyone. Vegetarian options include salads, fresh pasta, a sautéed vegetable sandwich and more. Other sandwiches ($5-$7), soups and some more original entrées like the fried frog legs and Thai pepper and pistachio-crusted pork tenderloin round out the menu. It was quite difficult to decide what I wanted to try because I sort of wanted to try everything.
We walked into what I thought was the front of the restaurant and stood in the small dining room wondering where to go. In the next room, the middle room known as “purgatory,” we found what was apparently the main entrance. We weren’t sure about our fate at this point, after hearing one server curse at a computer in the front room and seeing a nice quaint bar and happy dining patrons in the next.
While I wasn’t offended by that server’s particular shenanigan, I had to admit I was thinking, “I really hope that guy isn’t our server.” Luckily for us, and for this review, he was not.
We were informed that our food would take a few extra minutes to arrive because of a large party that ordered just before us. We had plenty of assorted breads to munch on in the meantime, and it didn’t end up taking too long, anyway.
Since we arrived before 7 p.m., we had the opportunity to try the $2 appetizer special. These small appetizers aren’t on the regular menu, so don’t expect to get them after 7. But do order a few to share amongst your group if you can.
We tried the Spinach and Artichoke Fried Ravioli, which included a good amount for two people. The presentation was attractive; the green shell contrasted with the chunky red marinara sauce. And they tasted pretty nice, too. I couldn’t resist trying the Wild Mushroom, Red Onion and Blue Cheese Tart ($5) as a second appetizer. I have a thing for tart shells and blue cheese, so why not put them together? Served on a little bed of greens in a few pieces, the presentation was nice. I only wished there was more blue cheese in that tart to put it over the edge.
I was thinking about getting the Frog Legs (battered and fried, served with jalapeno cheddar hush puppies and sautéed greens), mostly to try those hush puppies. But instead I went with the Shrimp Creole with cheddar cheese grits and fried shoestring sweet potato ($14). Any mention of fried sweet potato, and that’s basically what I’ll order. The dish was great. The thin slices of celery were a nice touch and helped cut through the richness of the cheddar grits and added some texture. I didn’t like pulling the tails off the shrimp, though. The shoestring sweet potato was really just a garnish. It was thin and crispy and looked nice, but that’s about it.
We also tried the Fresh pasta with wild mushroom, tomato, bell pepper, Parmesan and rich beurre blanc ($8). I hadn’t had fresh pasta in a while, so it was nice to try. It was a sensible portion, presented plainly on a plate and was cooked just right. Definitely a good low-cost or vegetarian option.
After receiving our entrées, the chef himself came out to make sure people were happy. He attributed the fact that our appetizers and entrées arrived so close together to his “bad planning,” but we were happy to have a bunch of food in front of us anyway. And it might have been my fault for insisting that our server take our entrée orders before she asked.
For dessert we tried the recommended Walnut Chocolate Torte ($5.95). It was mostly quite tasty, but some homemade whipped cream would’ve suited it better than the spray-can stuff that covered it.
If you’re into straightforward food and local flavors, definitely stop in. Chef Matt is a nice guy, willing to chat or answer your questions when he’s not “chained to the stove.”
Go: 710 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $8-$17 Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood, pasta and salads