Admittedly, Shallos’ food may be nothing more than a backdrop for its sexy selection of beers. Shallos boasts the Midwest’s largest selection of beer, with up to 500 bottles and 60 taps from 28 countries from Vietnam to Germany. Sample a dozen microbrews and international beers and Shallos gives you an engraved plaque. On a given day, draft beers might include: Bells Amber, Goose Island Hex Nut, John Courage, Warsteiner Dunkel and Woodchuck Cider. The house beer is a nice amber, good according to my friend. Another Southside friend says she goes to Shallos for a raspberry beer called Purple Haze.
All that lager calls for salty fried stuff. Shallos’ specialty is homemade potato chips ($5.99), which we passed over in favor of the beer battered zucchini appetizer ($5.69). Thin slices and a thin layer of batter gave these veggies a delicate flavor, though the hint of beer eluded us.
Salad came with visibly homemade croutons, big red onions and, thank goodness, no cheese. At this point, we wondered if the Shallos waitstaff and kitchen crew were popping amphetamines. Our salad came out before we finished our appetizers, and entrees came out before we finished our salads. Was this great service, or an unspoken message to not let the door hit us on the way out? Great service, we decided. We also got a little loaf of brown bread, like the kind they serve at Outback, with cinnamon butter.
However, on this Saturday night at Shallos, a full-fledged salad dressing catastrophe was in the works. My “Italian” was the texture of water plus slime. My friend confirmed with not one, but two servers that his bleu cheese was in fact bleu cheese — with more sweet than tang, he swore it was honey mustard. Convinced we had entered a parallel universe, we were relieved when the waiter admitted that these were new, untested dressings. He kindly gave us another salad, with honey-mustard on the side. To top it all off, my friend’s 16-month-old mistook the honey-mustard for vanilla pudding. After a big bite, the kid is scarred for life.
That said, Shallos is actually a family friendly place. High chairs and crayons were offered right away, though we vetoed the fried macaroni and cheese. For adults, the special of the day was a tidy bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($12.99), appropriately pink in the middle and rated quite good. The Teriyaki Chicken ($12.99) was less successful. Accompanied by a big, soft baked potato, the two chicken breasts had plenty of charred flavor, but literally no teriyaki.
We hoped for reparations with the Gourmet Tenderloin with Japanese Breadcrumbs ($6.99), served with chips. Measuring a good 10-inches-by-6-inches, this was a tenderloin four buns couldn’t cover. In the Zen tradition, I meditated for a good three minutes on what was particularly “Japanese” about the breadcrumbs coating this tenderloin. Conclusion: The coating was coarser, as if covered with boxed instant mashed potato flakes. Let’s just say I didn’t feel that I had been to Kyoto after tasting this fried behemoth, and that the pork itself was flavorless.
Perhaps we should have tried one of three alfredo pastas or the menagerie of burgers. The truth is that two things can minimize the disappointment of a lackluster meal: a good dessert and alcohol. The big honkin’ brownie ($5.99) was flecked with white chocolate and flanked by vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Three adults and two kids each had a half dozen bites, and felt better. More dedicated beer drinkers might have capped the evening with a Labatts Blue or a Red Hook Blonde, easing the pain of the Great Salad Dressing Debacle of 2004 and the Case of the Phantom Teriyaki.
On the upside, Shallos waitstaff is beer savvy and sincere in wanting to please. For a restaurant fronting the largely abandoned old Countyline Mall, Shallos offers a charmed 1890s aura with antiques, dark walnut bars and paneling and, well, plenty of TVs tuned to sports. Overlook some food faux pas, and you’ll find yourself in lager la-la land.