FOOD REVIEW – Urban Solace brings wellness to your wallet

Lauren Ciallella

Lauren Ciallella
Contributor

Possibly one of the best phrases in the English language, “pile of cheese biscuits with orange honey butter” had me so excited that I called my mom, sensing she would be proud of a daughter who had stumbled upon Urban Solace (3823 30th St), a fresh “feedery” nourishing the soul (and wallet) through upscale comfort cuisine. A further venture in cleansing North Park’s appetitive aura, Solace staged its September, soft opening to hardcore success as an affordable, neighborhood sanctuary.

Solace’s sponged cake exterior (in texture and hue) sliced by white window trim and embraced by a ‘Big Easy’ style balcony (perfect for throwing beads), never alluded to the cultured kingdom unfolding inside. Lured by a fiery hearth of tasteful surroundings (stained glass windows, exposed brick and a spattering of original artwork), we were led past crisp linens and diabolically selected color schemes to a candlelit table for four (only after sipping stellar wines at the well-lit, well tended bar and perusing a patio pulsing with electric warmth).

Our waitress, Christine, bore no resemblance to Stephen King’s calculating car, but possessed a type of enthusiasm that geared her standard of excellence into overdrive. She was always on hand when needed, but never overbearing and I was immediately lulled into coddled contentment. As we perused the menu, we noticed executive chef Matt Gordon had taken his 17 years of experience, along with his new role as founding partner, and devised an inventive menu landing him on the comfort food fast track. This AAA approach (Ambiance, Attitude and Abundance of soul-soothing dishes) had all masterfully stuffed a comforter of serenity, delivering a complimentary order of “warm fuzzies” as we settled in to dine.

Who needs gravy when you have orange honey butter? This citrus twist acted as wing man in America’s answer to chips and salsa. Just as you should never grocery shop when you’re hungry, ravenous impulses can be just as dangerous when ordering out. An immediate call for cheddar cheese biscuits ($4) threw a hot ball of chive ridden dough in our grabby mitts to avoid such dire dining decisions. A more opulent option for pre-meal munching was the Sonoma goat cheese and squash spread ($5) served with baguette and cornmeal crackers. This tangy, buttery dip was only upstaged by the cornmeal fried delights that Solace referred to as “crackers”.

Appetizers opened with a thick, potent Caesar ($6.50) boldly grabbing Romaine’s whole leaf contours. Chewy croutons were soon forgiven for their true bread backgrounds (no pre-cut, box brand here) and as I find it nearly impossible to run across a decent Caesar, I found myself satisfied. Tender skillet shrimp ($7.50) had a strong side when it came to seasoning, but pearls of chili grit wisdom softened the blow with an unusual “Southern risotto” smoothness that occurs when grits are prepared correctly. Sweet potato fries* (SPF*) ($5) were hailed my new favorite snack as I gorged on fingers of candy, fried starch contrasted by the pungency of blue cheese/ buttermilk dressing.

Macaroni and cheese ($10.50) made a headlining debut in entrees (with co-stars bacon and charred tomatoes as part of their entourage), but we decided to split up this famous duo so we could all enjoy its creamy crescendos- and we did. Unfortunately, sour notes were hit with non-contenders (or “non-content-ers”) in the entrée arena, beginning with one companion wrestling with a cinnamon brined center cut pork chop ($15.25) that was one tough customer. Chicken and dumplings ($13.50) needed to be cooked longer for a certain thickness associated with the dish- not just julienne vegetables with lumps of Bisquik on top (though, when I had my leftovers the next day, the dumplings had melded nicely with the liquid and veggies, so maybe just more simmer time). Maine lobster and artichoke potpie with homemade, fennel infused crust ($15.75) sounded too good to be true since my east coast roots constantly have me longing for “the claw”, but there wasn’t much luck finding claw meat and when I did it was a bit rubbery. The crust was homemade and flaky, but wasn’t enough to save the dish.

Amazingly enough, my favorite mainstay of the meal was their burger ($8.75) – Brandt farms ground chuck married with a marinade that would surely provide many years of happiness to many loyal customers. Topped with white cheddar, sautéed onions and wedged in a holy “roll-er”, the egg bun, I was already taking mental notes of all the lunches I would schedule here for the same price as fast food (not to mention it came with SPF*).

Desserts (all $6) ensnared us in a chocolate vice with the “warm and gooey chocolate cake” oozing cocoa lava out of its porous shell. On the tart side, we puckered and perked to key lime pie accompanied by a butter cookie reminiscent of my grandmother’s baking (with the addition of a clean, citrus finish). We weren’t brave enough to test Solace’s baked apple soaked in black cherry soda atop French toast- yet.

And that’s when I knew Solace had tipped the scales in their favor- I was already planning on my return visit(s). Acquiring a local, weekly go-to is just as rewarding as winning big at the craps tables. Dining out is usually a gamble and when you’re betting with $5 chips instead of $25 chips, it’s easier to take a loss now and then because you haven’t broken the bank. Gambling at Solace’s tables gave high enough odds where I knew I would no longer be paying for craps. However, I would suggest sticking to appetizers, sandwiches and desserts for a taste of everything under $10 each (not to mention a corking fee of $10 for two bottles- unheard of!) Solace had already given me peace of mind, but knew I couldn’t be the only one. As we left, I noticed the dining room’s buzz of meditative chanting resembling, “Um”, but upon intent listening I realized it was the resounding sound of, “Yum”.

Epilogue:

Bluegrass Brunch

I said I was going back and I meant it. It was on my fourth trip where the air wafted banjos and biscuits introducing Sunday’s Bluegrass Brunch. Twangs of guitar and a $6 bloody Mary continued the mental wake up call, alerting us to a menu boasting many of my previously declared Solace favorites (burger, Caesar, skillet shrimp), but adding an array of admirable breakfast triumphs. Did I say who needs gravy? Scratch that. I do. Sunday’s sausage gravy and biscuits had me feeling whoosey as I slipped my fork into a golden, round setting bejeweled with topaz gravy and shimmering garnets of split sausage. I knew my “sausage jones” (not Casey Jones) would have me conducting brunch on this gravy train every weekend. Straying off track from steadfast rules of grammar, Solace decided to spell their BLT with an E in front for the egg on top. This EBLT earned its true place on the breakfast lineup, not only because of the “E”, but with brown sugar, cured bacon on sturdy egg bread that soaked in how simple elements could collectively bring out the best of each flavor (served with none other than SPF*). Small details like ceramic ramekins of salt and pepper (brought by request) were a classy touch and even more impressive was the fact I hadn’t noticed their absence in prior visits (a notorious pet peeve of mine since I hate feeling shamed to ask for salt) – good seasoning me thinks. Next time, I’ll be trying the butter pecan French toast and one of the benedicts.and there I go again, already planning for the next venture to my favorite new hot spot (better bring some SPF*).

** Lauren Ciallella is a frequent contributor to City Times