Flavor // Grand old time

Early New Year’s resolution: eat here more often. After a season of table-hopping in pursuit of the Next Big Hit, I found myself yearning for the simpler, more sustainable pleasures offered by a neighborhood standby. A grand place to hang out in the ’hood. A place like the Grand Café.

Clearly the rest of my zip code was of the same persuasion, for when we showed up on a placid midweek night, every table was occupied, and a line snaked out the door. So much for the recession.

Or maybe it’s precisely because of our economic jitters that folks, like me, are searching for the sort of homey pleasures offered at the Grand — a warm welcome, a room where you can put your elbows on the table, and affable, neighborly service. Oh, and the food.

The food is enough like grandma’s — chicken, pork chops, meatloaf — to invoke comfort, but then again, enough not like grandma’s to make you willing — eager! — to shell out $20 for an entrée.

The master builder in the kitchen — elevated from sous-chef to head chef last May — is clearly in tune with the seasons and the honest, humble provender gleaned from Minnesota farms — parsnips, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, apples, beets — freshening these farm-table staples with creative twists. Something gets lost in translation now and then, but hey: It’s cooked with TLC.

We started with the soup du jour, vichyssoise; it was just that kind of autumn night when something smooth, hearty and soothing fit the ticket. And while it proved delicious, with watercress joining spuds in the puree and a splash of olive oil for suppleness, it wasn’t the vichyssoise of our dreams: less substantial, less filling, but also less satisfying.

Next, the featured app ($12), a pair of scallops — sweet, fresh and gently seared, dressed in a glaze of snappy harissa spices and served with an apple-fennel salad to balance the heat, further softened by a pool of celery root puree. Lovely.

I craved the meatloaf — I always crave the meatloaf here — but it’ll be here next time, so I voted for the rabbit (tastes like chicken). The juicy white meat was joined by a heap of cloud-light gnocchi splashed with a sweet-sharp cranberry chutney, alongside pancetta-laced Brussels sprouts. Normally that’s a veg that makes me swoon with pleasure, but this time, alas, simply grind my teeth. The sprouts were delivered so — um — al dente that they were simply bitter and bothersome, not savory-turned-meltingly-sweet. Easy to remedy, however.

Across the table was a plate of Wild Acres chicken (tastes like rabbit), chosen by us especially for its “go withs:” an autumnal quilt of wilted spinach, caramelized onions and pillowy yams laced with wine and butter. Also apple slices, but presented with the same faux pas: They hadn’t been cooked, thus adding an alien jolt of texture and sharp taste. Again, just a bit of softening to bring out their best, please.

Frankly, the desserts were boring — the obligatory flourless chocolate, crème brulee, etc. — so we passed. And few wines are listed under $30, another demerit. But then again, that meatloaf. … I’ll be back!

Grand Café

3804 Grand Ave. S. 

822-8260

grandcafempls.com