The Cellar A Well-Hidden Surprise in Evanston

The New England lobster roll is worth coming back for.

 

By Emily Wickwire

Hapless Intern

 

For the better part of my time at college, I’ve found myself intrigued by a tiny bistro crammed between a printing store and a Sports Clips on Evanston’s Clark Street. It’s a place I’ve passed by hundreds of times, but knew only as the closet-sized Zagat bearer, a restaurant that never came up in conversation with peers, yet was persistently packed with them. I’d see a fellow journalism classmate there with friends, while my former student adviser was actually one of the employees, seating guests while manning the host stand. Conspicuous despite the fact that, in a town known as the dining capital of the North Shore, it was just so darn inconspicuous.

 

So after coming up with an excuse to visit – the excuse being to write this review – I found myself, on a Friday in late April, at the restaurant’s only window table at 5 p.m. sharp (they don’t take reservations, and I don’t take risks with dining). Though the inside of the place seemed a little more spacious than the exterior had suggested, The Cellar seemed a fitting name for an establishment where wine bottles outnumbered seats by a substantial margin.

 

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The Cellar’s jumbo lump crab cake is a taste of Maryland on the North Shore.

The menu was a similarly pleasant surprise. It’s composed of mainly small, shareable plates divided up by regions of the world – “A Hint of Europe,” “All-American” and “World Wide” were just a few – and takes this global culinary representation quite seriously. Korean fish tacos with kimchi slaw, bacon-wrapped dates with Manchego cheese and Greek salad make the menu something of a world summit for cuisines. Representing France? Mussels a la Mariniere. The southeastern United States? Shrimp and grits.

 

After ordering a bottle of their cabernet to help them out with the skewed wine/people ratio, my dining companion and I opted for the American gastronomic experience: a New England lobster roll, a crab cake and a bucket of fried chicken. The first two lived up to expectations. The sandwich, which I had been most looking forward to, was perfectly buttered and browned. The mayonnaise in the lobster filling was at that perfect equilibrium of not being too overwhelming or underwhelming, and the lobster itself topped the bread in nice-sized chunks that were substantial without being rubbery. There was no skimping on the seafood in the crab cake either. Nestled beneath a heap of thin onion strings, it was stuffed with lump crab meat — none of the usual bread crumb filler. And though it was a little smaller than we had hoped for, the citrus remoulade and the fried onions that accompanied it certainly helped cement its place as one of my finer crab cake experiences.

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Fried chicken, with garlic gravy and coleslaw; prettier than it tastes

 

The fried chicken, however, would probably not make my list. While the side of garlic gravy was a unique way of presenting an all-too-traditional American dish, the chicken was noticeably dry.  But it was a beautiful dish: perfectly browned chicken in a stylish, mini metal bucket with a small dish of green, creamy coleslaw on the side. If nothing else, you can’t accuse them of lacking good presentation.

 

All in all, the experience was what I had been expecting from all of those times I was on the outside looking in. The menu had a variety of different dishes, the atmosphere was relaxed and a quiet buzz reverberated throughout the small establishment as the night went on (it must have been the wine). Would I come back? Gladly, though I would probably pass on the fried chicken. But in the meantime, I’m glad I’m now in on one of Evanston’s better-kept secrets.

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