Diner: A Staple in the Suburbs

But Parkers needs some service and spice

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I remember feeling as if I had entered a Williamsburg, Va., chophouse when I visited the James Tavern in Blue Ash years ago. Dark, cool and cozy. In its new life, Parkers Blue Ash Grill is lighter and brighter, and feels a bit more bustling with family parties throughout the labyrinth of rooms. Operated by Select Restaurants, Parkers is a variation of several themed restaurants throughout the country.

After we were led to our table on a busy weeknight, the server (accompanied by a trainee) deposited a card with her name handwritten on it — a nice touch — and told us the specials. Returning two minutes later to ask for our orders, she then disappeared for 15 minutes. When we were able to give her our choices, I was surprised when she asked how I wanted my salmon cooked. That's a familiar question for tuna or steak, but not for salmon.

An adequate wine list was included at the rear of the menu and offered domestic wines by the glass and by the bottle. A good selection of bottled beers, microbrews and draft beers was also available, as well as cocktails and bourbons, which can also be enjoyed in the spacious bar.

We were quickly presented with a substantial crockery bowl of Artichoke and Spinach Dip ($6.95), surrounded by large red, white and blue corn tortilla chips. The warm, creamy spread was nicely displayed, but rather bland and virtually begging for the addition of salt and pepper.

The Spinach Salad (small $6.95, large $10.95) was presented family-style in a deep, dark, wood bowl. The server filled our large, chilled soup plates with fresh spinach, grated hard-boiled eggs, raw red onion slivers, fresh button mushrooms and decorated with bacon crumbles and strips of roasted red pepper, tumbled with a honey mustard dressing. I liked the fresh vegetables and the large grates of aged Parmesan on top, which in some ways added more flavor than the uninteresting dressing.

The menu offers a wide array of steaks, chops, barbecue, fish and chicken. Any diner looking for a variety of options for a gathering would do well to select Parkers, as virtually everyone would be able to find something suitable to his or her taste.

We had been told about the hearth roasting used for roasting meat and making pizza. I chose the Hearth Roasted Cedar Planked Salmon ($16.95) after learning that it is placed on wood planks and placed in a 600-degree oven to sear the meat, keeping it moist inside. The fish was drier on the outer edges and moist in the center. Accompanied by a rice medley and nicely sautéed, crisp seasonal fresh vegetables, this was a satisfying meal. The Regular Cut Prime Rib ($17.95) was a thick, manly slab of tender beef served with horseradish. The red-skin mashed potatoes made a good companion with the same sautéed vegetables. The only detraction from the entrées was that both appeared to have waited under heat lamps a bit too long before arriving at our table.

We received a basket of sliced rosemary and olive bread and rye bread after we had begun our entrées, both quite good. Fortunately, the delay probably saved us a few calories.

The dessert options were not vast, but tempting. From the Graeter's Chip Ice Cream Tower ($6.95) to cheesecake, berries, strawberries with Grand Marnier crème ($4.95) to a Bananas Foster Sundae ($7.95), the confections were appealing. We chose the Hot Pecan Brownie ($6.50), a warm, moist and gooey brownie perched atop a generous scoop of Graeter's chocolate chip ice cream settled in a pool of warm chocolate ganache and crème Anglaise. This well-done indulgence was the perfect dessert to split with only minor amounts of guilt.

It may have been an exceptional Tuesday night, particularly in that our server had a trainee with her some of the time, but the service was badly timed throughout our visit. She asked for our selections too soon and then disappeared for too long. After we received our meal from the trainee, the server appeared asking of our satisfaction with the meal before we had picked up our forks. And we had to wander the restaurant to find her in order to pay the bill after waiting more than 15 minutes following dessert.

The location and ambiance of Parkers Blue Ash Grill are very attractive. The menu selections are a good representation of hearty American food, but often lack a bit of spice that would take the item from lackluster to very satisfying or spectacular. Just a little salt and pepper and a few herbs would make an enormous difference.

With improvements to service and spice, Parkers Blue Ash Grill should become a staple in the suburbs. ©

Parkers Blue Ash Grill

Go: 4200 Cooper Road, Blue Ash

Call: 513-891-8300

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday lunch 11:30 a.m-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 4-11 p.m.; Sunday 4-9 p.m.

Prices: Reasonable to moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken, salmon, shrimp, vegetable pizzas and salads

Other: Early bird dinner specials are available from 4-6 p.m.

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