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Issue Date: March 2004 Issue


Southern Comfort

Alexandria's on Main

Some folks will go to any lengths to satisfy their culinary cravings. For local record producer Jim Buchanan, that meant opening his own restaurant to ensure that he could always get a little Southern fix.

Buchanan, who owns Buchanan Recording Group, one of the largest recording studios in the state, and his own record label, has spent a Eot of time traveling and noticed that Cleveland lacked a restaurant serving Vis favorite Southern fare. He envisioned an upscale eatery with a classy, yet comfortable ambiance; an excellent, accommodating service staff; a full wine list and well-stocked bar; and Southern food. It's a combination that Buchanan admits "is rare in Southern dining."

In our visits to Alexandria's on Main, we found that he appears to have fulfilled his vision on all fronts, creating a dining spot that will please more people's tastes than just his own.

A short elevator ride to the second floor of a great, old brick building on the west bank of the Flats brings one into Alexandria's dining room, where walls mix dark-red tones and exposed brick, the tables and chairs are lacquered in sleek black, and the dim lighting glints on exposed ductwork and inspired artworks that depict various musical motifs. Alexandria's exudes a trendy, refurbished-urban-loft vibe that mixes well with the cool R&B playing softly in the background.

Between being greeted by two gracious hostesses at the front door -- who actually offer promptly to take our coats and hats (no charge) -- to meeting our affable, enthusiastic server, it's clear that Buchanan has excelled in providing the high-level service staff he wanted. In fact, during each of our visits, we were impressed by the service in almost every way: Our servers were exceptionally helpful and able when it came to guiding us through our menu choices, stood ready to make our visit enjoyable however necessary, and, perhaps best of all, seemed genuinely interested in making sure we got the best value for our dining dollar. A uniformly polite gentility creates the feeling of Southern hospitality to which Alexander's aspires.

So, feeling comfortable and welcome, we got down to the real business at hand: the Southern food that sparked the whole thing in the first place. With the help of executive chef Michael Franklin -- who previously worked at New York's Shark Bar and Justin's, the latter owned by R&B mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs -- Buchanan has put together a menu of Southern and soul classics that offers more hits than misses and something for just about everyone.

To begin the meal, our server brought out a big basket of freshly baked sweet potato-cornbread muffins that begged us to unashamedly eat every one. We did.

The appetizer menu is dominated (perhaps a bit too much) by three types of chicken wings ($6.95) and a Three Wing Combo ($7.95) that offers a sampling of each. The flavors -- Willie Q's, Jamaican Jerk and Mike's Buffalo style -- are excellent and the wings larger than the usual bar-food suspects. Gulf Stream garlic shrimp ($7.95), saut�ed in a garlic-butter sauce and served with collard greens, were slightly overdone, but the sauce was tasty and the greens excellent with some surprising Cajun kick. The real hit on the app menu is Alexandria's Soul Roll ($7.95), a handmade spring roll filled with collard greens, napa cabbage, black-eyed peas and rice. Served with a zesty pineapple dipping sauce, these goodies present an imaginative soul-meets-Seoul combo that we'd love to see developed further.

The entrees, all of which include two excellent sides, were perfectly executed on our visits, if sometimes unexceptional. The honey-dipped fried chicken ($15.95) and St. Louis ribs ($17.95) fall well within the above limits. Each dish was tasty and hit the mark in terms of our expectations, though neither offered anything especially innovative in thought or presentation. The ubiquitous favorite, chicken and waffles ($14.95), is also very good. On the very, very good end of the spectrum are the smothered pork chops (one for $9.95 at lunch and two for $15.95 at dinner). The center-cut chops are perfectly tender and covered in homemade gravy hinting of fresh herbs that, for true gravy connoisseurs, would be equally pleasing poured on the contents of one's entire plate.

For seafood lovers, Alexandria's offers such Creole fare as Alexandria's seafood gumbo ($19.95) and shrimp etouff�e ($18.95), both solid renditions of the classic dishes. There are also several preparations of salmon (honey-glazed, BBQ, potato-crusted and croquette -- each $16.95) and catfish presented in an astonishing four ways, not counting the catfish chowder ($6.95) or Georgia Bank catfish strips appetizer ($7.95). When asked about the prevalence of catfish on the menu, Buchanan good-naturedly responds that it's something he loves and, indeed, the menu consists of the food he likes.

Blackened stuffed catfish ($18.95), filled with crabmeat, shrimp, onions and peppers, is excellent, so perhaps you can never have too much of a good thing.

On the subject of good things, it's rare that side dishes are accorded their own place in a review, but Alexandria's on Main wins our personal award for best-executed selection of savory sides. Collard greens were perfect, enlivened by some serious Cajun wallop; the red beans and black-eyed peas are sent from legume heaven; the garlicky mashed potatoes and �ber-cheesy macaroni and cheese are great renditions of classics; and the candied yams should be standard issue on every Thanksgiving table in America. Keep in mind that each entree comes with two sides, so try not to double up. That way, you can try them all. If the amount you're allotted falls short, all sides are available for $3.95.

If you have room left for dessert, Buchanan's sweet-potato pie ($4.95), made from a family recipe, is possibly the best pie we've ever eaten.

Overall, Alexandria's on Main offers a solid dining experience and a sense of Southern hospitality that will easily take the chill out of a Cleveland night.

 

Alexandria's on Main, 1275 Main Ave., west bank of the Flats, Cleveland, (216) 344-4500. Hours: lunch: Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; brunch: Sun 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; dinner: Sun-Thu 5 - 11 p.m., Fri and Sat 5 p.m. - 1 a.m.


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