Review: Annabelle's Restaurant

American food searching for a niche
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 15, 2011
1.0 1.0 Stars

Annabelle's Restaurant - PB cup cookie pot pie

Hyde Park is the kind of neighborhood where the idea of a Dorchester businessman coming in to set up a restaurant is big stuff. After one such deal fell through, there was palpable relief that another Dorchester vet had stepped up, and the handsomely renovated Annabelle's is making friends all around this area of new but mellow diversity.

It's a bar-restaurant, which means that you might see four families with small children (there is a kid's menu) on an early evening and hardcore sports fans discussing the game in the bar later the same night. The menu is what in Dorchester–Hyde Park terms would be called "American food," which now includes quite a lot of Italian and some Mexican-style dishes, and even a bit of bistrofication. There is a real chef in there somewhere, as can be discerned by nicely undercooked vegetable sides and the odd gourmet-ish special. The beer list has retreated from some of the microbrews described in early reviews, and a lot of the food is simply bland, if generous. Interestingly enough, my favorites were wildly overcomplicated messes, another sign of chefly talent hidden under a bushel of basics and a long shift.

For example, my top appetizer was "Buffalo chicken potato skins" ($7.95), which is also a potential dinner since there are three of them, and "potato skin" now means about one quarter of a large baking potato. I do not ordinarily combine blue cheese, cheddar cheese, and spicy chicken, but it turns out to be a very effective potato stuffing, whether you eat it in slices or fork out the components. Sweet-and-spicy calamari ($8.95) is a large serving of large squid chunks, excellent eating as they aren't fried quite enough, and then drizzled with a Thai sauce that is a lot sweeter than it is hot. No tricks, no dips, but you'll enjoy this with a beer.

A special soup was "Irish stew" ($3/cup; $5/bowl), which was oversalted (salt and pepper are in heavy rotation at Annabelle's), but interestingly clear-broth, with an even dice of beef, rutabaga, carrot, and potato, plus a little onion and green pepper. I think the chef cooked these things separately, as the broth did not partake of their richness. An arugula salad ($9.95), however, would please any yuppie who came in, with a generous portion of underdressed greens, bits of orange sections, craisins, goat cheese, and onions.

Dinners run heavily to comfort food, but one strategy in a place like this is to go to the top — the $19.95 steaks. Most locals are going to order the 16-ounce "cowboy steak," but this writer believes that the lower grades of filet mignon actually taste better than the super-tender-but-bland prime steaks, and that argued for the "petite filet." At eight ounces uncooked, it was a softball's worth of flavor, rare as ordered. And with sides of underdone asparagus, and enough real mashed potatoes to cover a cowboy steak, it was a great platter all around.

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