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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Road Tested

By B.A. Nilsson

Double O Grill

6595 Route 9, Rhinebeck, 845-876-0800, doubleogrill.com. Serving 11-11 Mon-Thu, 11-midnight Fri-Sat, 9 AM-10 PM Sun (9-2 Sunday brunch). AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: American variety

Entrée price range: $7.50 (chop house burger) to $20 (blue-cheese-crusted sirloin)

Ambiance: lively

We were tourists with the usual tourist’s dilemma of finding a restaurant for dinner. Because my family and I have opted out of the fast-food joints (most of the time) and chain eateries (all of the time), we pore over online reckonings of local options and try to reach a consensus. Rhinebeck seemed a good stopping place, and the options were many. My wife wanted the vegetarian restaurant in a nearby town; my daughter preferred the fancy $30- an-entrée place; I just wanted some toothsome grub, and wielded the moral force of the weary driver to steer them to the Double O Grill.

It’s got all the trappings of a chain restaurant, being represented as one of four area restaurants under the same ownership, and looks as if it were rubber-stamped by the same design school that gives us the national franchises. But a closer look reveals that the design has a more upscale feel: The artwork doesn’t crowd the walls, the lighting is subdued, the tables and booths are actually comfortable, and the menu is a rollicking collection of varied items that never breaks the $20 ceiling and includes plenty of sandwich and lighter options down at the other end of the price scale.

As it turns out, the five-year-old Double O changed hands four months ago, and no longer is under the aegis of its founding family. It will hold onto its current moniker for a few months more, but after that it will be the Mazza Grill, according to co-owner Rodney Mazzella.

“My father and I bought the place,” he explains. “We’ve been in the restaurant business for many years in the Saugerties-Rhinebeck area.” He has no plans to change the current menu anytime soon (“No sense fixing what isn’t broken”) and has entrusted the kitchen to chef Anthony VandeKerkhoff.

The large dining area is segmented by low walls into clusters of tables and booths, topped by attractive lighting fixtures, and ringed by vintage posters all urging you to try one exotic beverage or another. Near the kitchen door (an all-caps neon sign shouts the identity of that portal) is a display case crammed with homemade cakes and pies.

A diverse, accessibly priced menu is the starting point, although, had I not another two hours of driving ahead of me, a large mojito would have been my point of entry. And, as you discover while watching the styrofoam collect at neighboring tables, large portions are the norm.

Nearly three dozen appetizers range from quesadillas ($8) to crab cakes ($10), with traditional items like Buffalo chicken wings ($8) and spinach and cheese dip ($8) to Thai mussels ($9), the contradictory-sounding blackened ahi sashimi ($10) and sweet corn tamale cakes ($8). Want to go more exotic? Try the Santa Barbara salmon cigars ($8.50), which consist of salmon and goat cheese in an Asian wrapper, served with cucumber sauce. Want to stay lean? A bowl of edamame is $7.

Be warned that many of these are entrée-sized, thus worth sharing or comprising the entirety of your meal. Even with three of us plundering the Asian lettuce wraps ($9), there was some to take home—although I’d recommend consuming it at one go, as lettuce doesn’t travel well. You’re folding the leaves around a stew of well-chopped chicken and vegetables, seasoned very much on the sweet side, in a sauce thick enough to invite little mess if you wrap and eat them carefully.

Salads are listed as appetizer or gourmet on different pages, and any of them seems large enough for a meal. A $6 Greek salad, listed on the appetizer page, crowded an oversized plate and boasted locally sourced feta as a component. It shares its page with such combos as endive, pecan and blue cheese ($7) and a French country salad that includes asparagus, beets and Coach Farms goat cheese ($7).

The two pages of gourmet salads include grilled chicken tostada ($10), fried calamari tossed with romaine and radicchio ($12), Benny’s Maui salad (chicken breast and greens with mango, papaya, pineapple and more, $11) and a relatively calm Caesar salad ($9) that can be dressed with chicken, shrimp or tuna for a dollar more.

Two pages of sandwiches offer plenty of possibilities, all pretty lively sounding, in the $9 range, although a crab cake hoagie comes in at $11. The pasta, rice and noodles page lets you order smaller portions before 4 PM and includes a seafood risotto for $17 that I found an excellent mix of the traditional paella components—chicken, sausage, clams, shrimp, scallops—over tomato-saffron rice.

Chicken dishes dominate the House Favorites page, from $11 chicken tacos to fried chicken, chicken and biscuits (each $14) and chicken marsala ($15). The chickenless spicy-vegetable curry is a bargain at $13, with a hint of heat in its sauce, but not enough to daunt my nervous wife, who probably is a good barometer of What America Can Tolerate. Edamame and potatoes joined an array of asparagus, squash, carrots and more in the mix.

By the time my daughter was served her Chino-Cubano steak ($17), she had little appetite and thus barely tasted a reasonably tender skirt steak served with a Thai tamarind sauce, over rice festooned with onion and tomatoes.

But the small bit of appetite left was given over to a slice of mudslide-Oreo cheesecake ($5.50). Not my type of dessert, as I prefer my cheesecake unsullied by cookies and such, but a fitting close to a road-food meal that perfectly satisfied our budget and expectations.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

It’s a poignant good news/bad news scenario. The good news? Chez Sophie owners Paul Parker and Cheryl Clark are moving this fall to a vineyard in the south of France. They will restore a medieval castle into a vacation destination, complete with gourmet meals. The bad news? Chez Sophie will close Sept. 30. One more track season and that’ll be it. So now is the time to treat yourself to a goodbye meal at one of the area’s finest restaurants, and take advantage of the wine specials as they empty their legendary cellar. 534 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-3538, chezsophie.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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