A well-tamed animal in the wilderness 

The Fox draws the locals for steaks and sandwiches

The Fox draws the locals for steaks and sandwiches
Past Castleton, East 82nd Street winds its lazy way through some pretty natural environs, eventually becoming 79th Street and heading out of the traffic and stress of one of the city’s most congested areas. But with all of the new construction and subdivisions in the area near Geist, evidence of human life is never far from sight. It’s an often jangling contrast between nature and civilization, and some hairpin turns on well-shaded roads give way almost without notice to strip malls and concrete parking lots.
The bleu cheese-stuffed filet ($17.25) was a double dose of Wisconsin cheese.
In one of those strips, just up Fox Road, sits a surprisingly spiffy eatery that occupies a large corner next door to a pet store. The Fox Pub and Grill draws a pretty diverse crowd, everyone from junior high students with their parents after baseball practice and senior citizens enjoying a weeknight dinner to corporate types meeting for drinks in the bar. For a place that’s only been open around six months, The Fox does a brisk business during the week. People are still strolling in after 9 o’clock. With so much open space, the joint can get a little noisy. Acoustic tiles hung throughout can’t abate the din from the bar and nearby tables. Add to that an abundance of TV screens and live music most Wednesday to Saturday nights, and it doesn’t exactly make for an intimate dining space. If you can, ask to be seated along the far wall away from the bar — or at their secluded outdoor patio. You’ll be glad for a little peace and quiet to dig into The Fox’s ambitious menu of burgers, steaks and salads. Appetizers range from the expected — potato skins and quesadillas — to the slightly more daring: a Cajun shrimp cocktail in a martini glass and mushrooms stuffed with crab and bleu cheese. Thinking in season, we ordered the breaded asparagus ($7.95). This arrived so fast that we wondered if the bright green spears of asparagus poking through a golden batter had had enough time to cook. Indeed, they were crisp but not tough, though the coating could have been a bit more brown and crunchy. The “zesty red pepper sauce” promised on the menu was just a few light drizzles of a quite mild sauce. More of this could have added a little zip to this starter. But it was a novel way to eat this spring favorite. A cup of soup or a house salad is included with entrees. The soup of the day was a tangy, slightly sweet concoction of beer and rich cheeses with a side of crackers. Mostly iceberg, the salad had a fair amount of veggies with a house-made ranch dressing. A nice extra touch was a basket of warm rolls with plenty of whipped butter, especially good with the creamy soup. Ordering entrees presented some challenges, as the menu covers a lot of bases, from tortilla bowl salads to wraps and pizzas to a Hoosier tenderloin sandwich and even rack of lamb and fried chicken. For bleu cheese lovers, the bleu cheese-stuffed filet ($17.25) was a double dose of Wisconsin cheese packed both inside the filet as well as melted in a sauce on top. Diners who’ve eaten at the Snooty Fox in Nora will recognize this from co-owner Tim Queisser’s other similarly named culinary enterprise. Nicely seared on the outside and juicy with plenty of flavor from all the cheese, this was a true highlight of the meal. Side dishes, however, were another story. After we had ordered them, our otherwise informed, no-nonsense waitress returned with the news that garlic mashed potatoes weren’t available that night. It seems they’re a special accompaniment only available on certain days. Substituted French fries were crisp enough but paled a bit beside the rich filet. Salmon roasted on a cedar plank ($17.95) seemed to come from the other end of the spectrum. While the salmon was flaky and tasty enough, it didn’t exactly pick up a lot of flavor from the cedar. Rather than being “encrusted” with a Dijon mustard glaze, as the menu promised, the somewhat modest filet had more the texture of baked or poached salmon with a creamy sauce poured over the top. Rice on the side was straightforward and unadorned but well-seasoned. Topping a list of desserts is an enviable homemade carrot cake that was so moist from several layers of cream cheese frosting that the layers started sliding apart. It almost eclipsed a warm chocolate cake with a molten center, two different plate sauces and plenty of melting vanilla ice cream. The desserts were emblematic of a place aiming to go the extra step for its customers. Given how spirited it was on a Tuesday evening, it seems the locals appreciate what The Fox has to offer, too. With nightly drink specials and live bands such as the Nexxus Jazz Combo and Friends of Ed, The Fox is becoming a civilized haunt in an ever-expanding urban woods.

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