THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED
Ken’s is one of those places you can drive by many times without noticing. I still might not have seen it if I hadn’t had trouble parking for Castagna and walked past one day. The restaurant reminds me of a diner. Three booths are scattered around the outside walls, a community table that seats ten runs down the middle, there are a few scattered tables for two, and counter seating directly in front of the kitchen, which is open to the room. It is a great place to go alone because you can sit at the counter and watch Ken at work on the grill.
Most salads are available in two sizes. The most recent offerings include: A Caesar salad that was good but was not the classic version; it reminded me of the one at Justa Pasta. We are talking a garlic explosion. It has a nice anchovy flavor without being in your face, though it is hard to taste subtleties through the garlic. The lettuce seemed like it had been dressed a little bit wet ($7.25). A “BLT” salad of heirloom tomatoes, crisp pancetta, greens & a light buttermilk-herb dressing was a bit of a disappointment. The tomatoes were a bit limp, not as crisp or flavorful as they should be. The same goes for the pancetta which was cool, soft, and chewy. On this salad too, the leaves seemed to have been dressed wet. I wouldn’t have this again ($8.25). The warm calamari salad with potatoes, green beans, asparagus, fennel, garlic, tomatoes, greens, olive oil and lemon sounded really good. Unfortunately, all the ingredients didn’t really play well together. There was not all that much calamari, and what was there was only okay ($8.75).
Southern buttermilk fried chicken cooked with lard, just like your grandmother made it in an old-fashioned pan is excellent, with a nice crispy skin and terrific moist meat ($15.75). The sides of mashed potatoes and cream gravy are fine too. I tried the thick cut Carlton Farms pork chop with an Asian sauce, light scalloped potatoes, and homemade ginger applesauce, with slight caramelization to the apples. It is a classic combination. The pork was terribly overcooked to the point we didn’t even finish it. Since everything was put on a cool plate, the potatoes didn’t hold their heat very long, but would have been pretty good hot. An accompanying applesauce certainly looked great, but was overly sweet. I hate to say it, but this dish was just unacceptable. If I was dining for myself I would send it back, but since this was a review, I just kept my mouth shut and took the grenade ($17.75). You had better like pepper if you are going to have their Steak Au Poivre. Many people get lazy and grind the pepper with a mill instead of crushing whole peppercorns as they should. You want the chunks, as they give little explosions of flavor with each bite. I went with three people that really like pepper, but Ken’s steak had a huge amount. Yes, I know it is supposed to have a good amount of pepper, and yes, I’ve eaten it all over the world. For me, this version had too much. Unless you are feeling daring, order it with less pepper. A potato cake was served on the side ($19.75). It is also available in a regular butter sauce without the pepper.
Pasta with corn, pancetta, butter, and sage was okay, though the corn is a bit out of season, and didn’t stick to the fettuccini very well. The dish is available in two sizes, the small being just right when paired with a salad. $8.25 for small, $14.50 for large.
A Painted Hills burger, served with zucchini pickles, oozes juice and comes cooked just as ordered. The grind is a little bit coarse for me; accompanying roasted potatoes were a bit boring and nothing special. Overall it is not as good as Castagna down the street; however, this one is cheaper and perfectly acceptable. $9.25
A nicely cooked spinach side dish was a salt bomb one night but just perfect the next. It seems the chef may have too heavy a hand on occasion.
Side dishes of garlic mashed potatoes, green beans with toasted almonds, or sautéed spinach with garlic oil and roasted asparagus (In late September?) available for $4.25 each or $11.50 for all three, which would make a meal. Portions are fine for the price paid; quality very good. Note that I didn’t try the asparagus out of season.
The ubiquitous crème Brûlée was just fine, what you’d expect ($4.25). Hot bittersweet chocolate soufflé with raspberry sauce and whipped cream was excellent. You need to order this dessert 20 minutes in advance, as it is not prepared ahead. This is the standout of the desserts with a deep chocolate flavor and bright raspberries ($5.75). A chewy caramel pecan tart with whipped cream ($5.50) was ok, but cloyingly sweet. Not the best choice on the list.
The wait staff was very capable and friendly. Food came promptly from the kitchen The water glasses are jelly jars. I hated them though some people thought they were large and charming. When you pour a beer into one it tends to warm the beer rather quickly and the whole bottle kind of disappears into it.
The wine list has an okay selection from around the world with a low markup: seven reds and eight whites. Several are available by the glass, though the glassware leaves much to be desired. Four beers are available: Deschute’s Black Butte Porter, Lagunitas Czech-style Pilsner, Deschute’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale, & McTarnahan’s Amber, all $3.75
Overall I really like the environment at Ken’s Place and want to like the food. Ken and the staff all seem like really great people. Unfortunately, though the dishes all have the right ingredients, execution falls just short of expectation. It would help to pay more attention to seasonal ingredients.