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Critic's Notebook

Welcoming Comfort Food

Smitty's Grill fills a menu with familiar favorites and cocktails for the nostalgic.

January 03, 2002|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Comfort food is making a comeback in the new year as restaurateurs rush to fill a yearning for old-fashioned, home-style American food. Just in time, the owners of Parkway Grill, Crocodile Cafe and Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena have retooled the restaurant they owned at 110 S. Lake Ave. The high-end Asian fusion concept called Ducz never really took flight, so in December, the Smith brothers redecorated and opened as Smitty's Grill. And already, it seems to be a go.

On a weekday night, the bar is thronged, cheerful under the Christmas lights. The bartender keeps a constant flow of martinis, Cosmopolitans and Old Fashioneds coming, and the cooks, seen through the kitchen window, are jamming. The noise level is raucous. By some peculiar trick of acoustics, I can hear the conversations in either booth to the side of ours perfectly but have trouble catching the ends of sentences at our table.

Smitty's menu is a no-brainer: shrimp cocktail, Caesar and Cobb salads, steak chili, steaks and ribs, and for dessert, Fosselman's ice cream.

Corn bread comes in a blackened iron skillet, in the sweet Southern style. The appetizer-sized barbecued pork ribs take the edge off your appetite, but if you really want to go retro, there's bean and cheddar dip and even garlic cheese bread. But no Swedish meatballs, which date more or less from the same era.

Set off in the center of the brown paper menu is a box listing Smitty's specials, which include a floury chicken pot pie, a pan-fried pork chop, a plate of calves' liver and bacon, and "Marion's famous meatloaf." On a first visit, though, most of the food I tried was more workmanlike than anything else.

The best items turned out to be the straightforward prime rib listed as roasted on the bone--well, I should hope so--and the hot fudge sundae, which is embellished with not one but three sauces--that chocolate fudge, plus butterscotch and caramel.

Despite the average food, Smitty's is bursting with diners. The place does have an easygoing, all-American charm.

Cocktails are tailor-made for the nostalgic. It's easy to park, so it doesn't take a big effort to stop in for a quick supper. In short, it offers all the comfort of the familiar.

Smitty's Grill, 110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena; (626) 792-9999. Appetizers $4 to $12; main courses $10.50 to $24.95. Open daily for dinner; Monday through Friday for lunch.

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