In a perfect world, every neighborhood would have a restaurant like Savoy. You could walk in without a reservation, get a table without waiting more than a few minutes and get something good to eat without spending too much money. And while I still believe that someday, somehow, we'll all live in that perfect world, for now I'll head over to Southeast Clinton Street when I'm feeling utopian.
The newest venture from Peter Bro, the cocktail impresario and midcentury modern furniture aficionado behind the Aalto Lounge, Savoy-named after an amoeba-shaped vase by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto-stays true to form. The parallel dining room and bar of the space that used to house La Cruda feature art plucked from the Goodwill bins, well-worn examples of early modern furniture, and repurposed salvage like the mirrored sliding door hanging sideways on the wall .
Bro had initially asked Alton Garcia to help design the menu, but he wisely offered him the job of chef, too. Garcia, who spent a long time cooking at Genoa before helping launch Navarre, teams with Jeff Reiter, former sous chef at Park Kitchen, to offer an eclectic list that blends the comfortably familiar with enough offbeat choices to make life interesting.
The Wisconsin cheddar plate ($6) hints at the owner's roots, and the fried curds ($5) finish outing the Cheesehead. Encased in light batter made from pale ale, the little orange nuggets of premature cheddar give up their famous squeak but are still perfect with a cold beer. A burnished golden filet of smoked trout ($5), served with Dijon mustard, horseradish cream, thin slices of lightly pickled onion and solitary cornichon, is more cosmopolitan but still linked to the Scandinavians who homesteaded much of what used to be called the Great Northwest.
Meatballs ($5) here are miniature spheres of ground pork and beef blended with pine nuts, golden raisins, basil and thyme. They come in a simple tomato sauce dusted with Parmesan cheese with a few slices of baguette on the side. Even better are the chicken croquettes ($6), crispy with a breadcrumb coating, spiked with brandy and served on a bed of salad greens.
The Waldorf salad ($6), authentically detailed down to the boiled dressing, pays respect to a culinary past that wasn't just all meat and potatoes. Savoy's twist on the chopped salad (also $6) is a delightfully integrated tangle of thinly sliced greens, onion, radish, salami and white cheddar.
Supper choices run from roasted chicken ($12) to pan-fried trout ($10), with a simple flat-iron steak ($13) and mac 'n' cheese ($9) tossed into the mix. Each comes with two sides from a double handful of choices-and it can be hard to decide which to choose. The glazed carrots are sweet and tender, the braised chard is cooked with pork and carries some red-pepper heat, sherry and Worcestershire add intense flavor to the sautéed mushrooms, the cole slaw packs a mustardy tang, and that mac 'n' cheese oozes creamy goodness.
Finish up with the day's pie or a slice of Devil's food cake ($5 each), and go home dreaming of a better world coming to your own neighborhood.
Savoy, 2500 SE Clinton St., 808-9999. 5-11 pm (bistro) and 5 pm-2:30 am (bar) Tuesday-Sunday. $-$$ Inexpensive-Moderate.