There are certain places in this city that permit you to travel back in time. The strip of Harrison Avenue where Cheviot meets Westwood is one of them. A "real" barber shop — the kind with 1950's barber chairs and a striped pole in front — adjoins the local hardware store, a throwback to today's home improvement warehouses. Historic houses are transformed into shops selling antiques and knick knacks, and blue-haired ladies shop at the "Five and Dime." I can think of no setting more perfect than this for the Historic Beech Flats restaurant.
From the street, Beech Flats would be easy to miss, simply because the historic structure blends in with its neighbors. No flashy signs or parking lots here.
The restaurant resides in what were originally two establishments — a hardware store and an ice cream parlor — and the current place retains its charming historic features. Diners enter from a side doorway, passing by a small bar area with two or three booths covered in checked cloths that looked like a wonderful retreat for a few German Weizen beers. The rest of the place has a slight European/ German feel, with hefty ladder-back dining chairs and sturdy wood tables in the first dining room, and large booths in the second room.
Victorian antiques and German collectibles line the walls. Large windows in the front room open to a small, covered porch that allowed ample natural light on the evening we visited.
According to the menu, the name itself is a historical reference. The path traveled by early pioneers and hunters that is now Harrison Avenue leveled off to a plateau graced by a spring and grove of Beech trees. That area became known as Beech Flats.
The Cheviot/Westwood setting (the establishment rests squarely on the dividing line between the two communities) means the crowd is "native" generally the older, early-bird special crowd so getting a table is rarely a problem, especially after 7 p.m. On our most recent visit we arrived at 8 p.m. on a weeknight to a nearly empty restaurant. I would have been concerned except that servers were quickly bussing tables, a sign we'd just missed the dinner crowd.
Our server was exactly what I'd expect for such an establishment: no-nonsense and friendly. And even though by the end of our meal we were the only diners left in the restaurant, she allowed us to linger and didn't hover.
Starters include a few typical deep-fried choices, Cheese Sticks ($4.95) or Fried Shrimp ($4.95), as well as some unusual, like Liver Paté ($2.50.) We took our server's recommendation for two of the house specialties: the Sautéed Mushrooms ($3.50) and the Potato Balls ($3.75). The button mushrooms were literally swimming in a platter-sized pool of butter and garlic, although I would have liked even more garlic and salt. The Potato Balls were cheddar and mashed potatoes rolled in breading and deep-fried. Definitely more imaginative than typical potato skins and very tasty.
The evening's homemade soup — a creamy chicken with wild rice — was a hit. My house salad (served with more no-nonsense dressing choices of Ranch, French, Thousand Island, etc.) was fair, although the bagged greens needed to be crisped up under some cold water before being piled onto the plate. A better choice would have been the house's hot slaw with tangy, vinegar and bacon flavor. Teacup rolls accompanied all — home baked white flour rolls, baked and served in dainty teacups — a cute presentation. Our first batch seemed flawed: the dough seemed to be missing an ingredient. Our server noticed and quickly brought us a new round, still warm from the oven and much improved.
Entrée choices are also no-nonsense/West side: beef, chicken, seafood and pasta. And in a time when it seems like all restaurants serve everything a la cart, "soup or salad and side dish included with entrées" is a refreshing statement.
The Grilled Halibut Steak ($14.99) and Grilled Salmon Filet ($15.95) were terrific. My salmon was a huge filet, more than twice what I could actually finish, tasted fresh, and was prepared well done, as I had requested. The halibut, with its peppery, blackened seasonings, was full of flavor and equally moist. Both were surprisingly great pieces of fish in an unexpected place. The Beech Shrimp ($14.95) was a plate full of large sautéed shrimp, swimming in the same garlic bath as the appetizers, and probably would have been a better choice had we not already indulged in the mushrooms. But the shrimp were firm and presented nicely.
Beef choices include a N.Y. Strip ($17.95) and Filet ($18.95), as well as Ribs ($13.50/half; $16.95/whole). Poultry selections offered Grilled Duck ($15.95), Chicken Florentine ($14.50) and Cordon Bleu ($14.50). Blackened Chicken Alfredo ($13.95) rounds out the selections. On a previous visit, I enjoyed this indulgent dish with its creamy, rich Alfredo sauce and fresh broccoli. Homemade desserts vary. We enjoyed our huge piece of rich and moist German Chocolate Cake ($4.25).
Next time, we'll try dining outdoors in the covered beer garden. Like the rest of Historic Beech Flats, the garden's simple surroundings provide the perfect setting for a hearty, uncomplicated and delicious meal. ©
Go: 3230 Harrison Ave.Cheviot/Westwood
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4:30-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.; Sunday 4-8 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty of seafood options (cod, halibut, salmon, shrimp, crab legs, crab cakes), plus vegetable pasta, salads.
Other: Outside tables in cooperative weather. Carryout available. Party room.