By Buffy Calvert
For people-in-the-know, there is a new delight in Andes. Hidden behind the familiar counter and refrigerator section of Hogan’s General Store, where ChaCha briefly barbequed, is a brand-new weekend eatery, The BACKROOM, with an expert and inventive chef, Chris McGee. It’s open Friday and Saturday 5-9 and Sunday 11-8.
The menu, which changes weekly, is modestly perched on Hogan’s counter and writ large on a chalk board in the bright, plant-lined restaurant itself. Take an oil-cloth covered table, peruse the menu and try to choose from an array of inviting “Plates.”
After taking your order, Rachel, the attentive and accommodating waitress, will bring a basket of hot bread, a baguette fresh from the oven with a shattery crust and nice pull, to slather with sweet butter. Don’t fill up! The best is yet to come.
First Plates on a recent evening included “Peking duck cups:” a platter of crisp slices of savory duck tucked into “cups” of butter lettuce, served with tiny pickled vegetables and hoisin sauce. “Fabulous,” sighed the guest who had ordered it. Each of us tasted a spoonful of velvety, herb-scented tomato bisque. Should we have asked for a bowl? Grilled shrimp scampi was served on rounds of toasted French bread. A salad highlighted segments of sweet blood oranges nestled in a bed of perfectly dressed tart greens under a sheaf of thinly sliced fennel.
Second Plates featured a mild beef curry on basmati rice with braised bok choy and a vermillion beet-flavored risotto, studded with meaty mushroom slices and surrounded with dark, rich greens. A seared duck breast drenched in sour cherry port wine sauce and accompanied by root pureé and Brussels sprouts was shared by the table with pleasure. Another guest enjoyed miso-ginger salmon paired with mango “caviar” and bok choy.
At an earlier dinner in The BACKROOM, one diner in my party chose the pot roast and declared it, “The best I’ve ever had!” Thick slabs of Gladstone local beef in their own flavorful juice were served with crisp-tender fresh vegetables and a generous scoop of mashed potatoes. How does Chris McGeeget even mashed potatoes to taste so special?
Chicken pot pie, an airy, crisp roof of puff pastry atop a one-serving tureen of moist chunks of chicken in a tarragon cream sauce, is always a favorite. The thick pork chops with roasted root vegetables that one guest ordered pleased him and everyone who sampled them. Steak frites also made a hit.
Third Plates. I know you don’t have any more room, but I must recommend the blood orange chocolate tart. Or pass around a deep, dark, hot chocolate soufflé with a nice dollop of whipped cream. Rachel will bring you each a spoon.
As if this weren’t enough, The BACKROOM is now open for Sunday Brunch from 11-4. For a first plate, try an omelet: the smoked salmon and goat cheese or the wild mushroom, which come with a light salad and toast or a hot biscuit. The Second Plates at Brunch are the same as on the evening menu. And as good. Third Plates? Of course! Perhaps fruits of the forest pie or a poached pear.
Chef Chris McGee is assisted in the kitchen by Catherine Herr. If The BACKROOM gets crowded, Ian, Meghan and even Don himself may be summoned from the front to help out.
The food is superb; the atmosphere friendly and informal; you can enter from the back or through the store. All that is missing is a series of big signs letting everyone know that The BACKROOM is here and open for your dining pleasure, Fridays and Saturdays from 5-9 and Sundays, brunch from 11-4 and dinner until 8. ~