Maxie's Supper Club and Oyster Bar has always been a party, spilling over with enthusiastic patrons, good local music, great food and grog, and fun. Chick and Dewi Evans take a smart approach to the art and the theater of the restaurant business, and their place has recently - and intelligently - grown to accommodate both the happy crowds and the busy kitchen staff without sacrificing a thing in the way of food, service, or ambiance.
On a recent visit, we were happy to discover our old favorites still on the menu, the same top-quality New Orleans-style fresh raw oysters on the half shell nestled around a string of silvery Mardi Gras beads; that most comforting of southern comfort foods, shrimp and grits with tasso sauce and smoky andouille sausage; a good selection of fish prepared in imaginative ever-changing ways; meaty crab cakes; crusty oyster or fried green tomato po' boys; and late-night small dinners, perfect for satisfying those after-theater munchies. But you have probably sampled most of that.
There's still the same watchful, gracious service in the new Tavern as well as in the original bar and dining room. And the Evanses have completely refurbished and expanded their kitchen, as well as adding a smoker that cranks out hunks of slow-cooked, tender, intricately spiced barbecued meats.
Early on a Sunday evening, before Maxie's weekly Shuck and Jive musicale, we wandered in to find the place packed with people, conversation, and laughter.
We centered ourselves with a double trio of the oysters du jour - briny and fashionably gray in their iridescent shells - served up with two sauces: one of vinegar and shallots, the other a red cocktail sauce with the rare treat of sinus-clearing freshly grated horseradish.
Surveying Maxie's Martini Buffet, we were tempted by the Mango Martini. But, with spring right around the corner, we settled on the Maxirita, the house margarita: big, wet, and refreshingly tart.
The "specials" menu offered small and large platters and we first dug into a "small." A filleted and sautéed Wyoming golden trout was encrusted with crunchy crushed tortillas and decked out with a well-balanced chipotle mole sauce that danced with sweet, slow, cheery heat. And we were just getting warmed up. From the regular menu, a bowl of the gumbo - dark, spicy, complex, and meaty - was richly satisfying.
| But the star of this show was the aptly named Piggy Platter, a sampler of the new smoker's products. Folks of normal appetite would have been sated by that time, but we dove - forks first - into a heap of supremely tender, smoky pulled pork in a vinegary North Carolina-style sauce; a quarter rack of well-bronzed Kansas City-style barbecued ribs; a mound of barbecued beans that had smoked under the meats, catching their smoke-darkened juices; a generous helping of crunchy, piquant coleslaw dotted with parsley; and a hunk of chewy cornbread with not a hint of chalky baking soda - all in all, a smokehouse tour de force. This we washed down with Hosmer's Dry Rosé, a good companion to the barbecue's smoke and spices. |
For dessert, we settled on a slim slice of pecan tart, a delicate and restrained slice of buttery crusted pecan'd heaven surrounded by a stark study in white: Purity vanilla ice cream cross-hatched with a pale cinnamon crème anglaise, and topped with an ever-so-tasteful dollop of whipped cream. Fab!
A slightly less adventuresome bowl of the local bittersweet ice cream, served with a crisp gaufrette, was another fine finale.
We add our own kudos to the Wine Spectator's for Maxie's award-winning wine list. Dewi Evans and Kim Navarro have put together a roster that draws from the reasonably priced best of both old world and new, with a thoughtful selection of wines by the glass, half bottles, and, best of all, a good listing of Finger Lakes wines which are also available by the glass. There's also a handful of well-chosen dessert wines, desserts in themselves, including Bonny Doon's Framboise, a couple of Ports, a Muscat de Beaumes, and a Sauternes.
Maxie's, located at 635 W. State Street, is a party any night, but particularly on Tuesdays and Sundays, when bands carry on. The kitchen is open for dinner until midnight, later on weekends. They don't accept reservations, but you can call 272-4136 for information.
Restaurant stories in the Ithaca Times are generally done with full knowledge of the establishment's owners. The writer interviews staff members and is presented with a meal for two as a courtesy of the restaurant.
©Ithaca Times 2004