Right as the server walked away with my order at The Kitchen Next Door, another arrived with the food for the table to my left. Though the modern interior decor, rich with wood and clean lines, made for a pleasant visual atmosphere, I spent the next 10 minutes sneaking glances, eyeballing their order and wondering if I made the right choice.
I thought I was being a creeper. But as soon as my food arrived, the tables in the self-proclaimed community pub next door to The Kitchen’s main dining room were turned.
The old man whose veggie meatloaf I had been ogling leaned over. “Is that the bangers and mash?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I thought about ordering that,” he said. “But I lived in England for a while and I know too much about that sausage, and I wasn’t sure if it would be the same.”
He didn’t elaborate past that, leaving my imagination to fill in the blanks. But had he ordered the bangers and mash ($12.95), he would have discovered that it didn’t taste at all like it was made from the lesserliked walk-on characters in Oliver Twist. Lightly sweet and tender, layered on top of creamy mashed potatoes with sauteed kale and onion gravy, it was a rich American umami flavor with hints of bright freshness from the kale for contrast.
The cumin-roasted carrots I ordered on the side ($2.95) were a sweet and earthy delight, and my dining partner’s quinoa and mashed mushroom veggie meatloaf — the very same one my neighbor had — was easily one of the best meat-substitute dishes this reporter has ever tasted. It was served over a creamy bed of polenta and drizzled with a rich tomato sauce.
A roasted pork sandwich lunch special ($10.95 with a bowl of soup and a drink) that I had on a return trip was served on a pillowy-soft ciabatta roll from Udi’s Artisan Bakery brushed with a light pesto and dressed up with arugula, an especially nice touch for a dish whose natural flavor is all too-often drowned in mayonnaise and cabbage.
I closed out with the dessert menu’s marquis item: a whisky milkshake ($7.95). Made with a high-quality vanilla-bean ice cream and a house well whisky, it was a white russian you could chew on. The Dude would definitely abide.
Perhaps it’s the slightly schmancier attached storefronts, The Kitchen and The Kitchen Upstairs, perhaps it’s the brick and glass front windows, but from the outside, The Kitchen Next Door looks more upscale than it is, and that’s to its detriment.
It’s comfort food that breaks neither the bank nor the belt, and that proves a point I’ve long argued for as a food writer: fine food doesn’t require fine dining. You should be able to get a great meal at a decent price in jeans. The Kitchen Next Door certainly isn’t a dive bar, but it’s atmosphere is casual without being trashy, and with the possible exception of its efforts not to cut vegetarians out of comfort food equation, the menu doesn’t bother with innovation in its dishes so much as excellence in its delivery. Not everyone can be a foodie, the kind of person who loves to slurp raw oysters and drives across three counties looking for the perfect pourover. But The Kitchen Next Door shows there’s no reason you can’t afford — or be let in the door — for a good meal.