Kelties: A comfy bistro, worth the drive

Kelties' lump crab cakes.

For years now, I have harbored a silly gastronomic fantasy that

just around the next corner in, say, Loofah, Kan.,

there may lurk a comfortable little bistro that delivers delicious food and

solid execution at reasonable prices; the sort of place that makes a long drive

worthwhile, but lacks the big city pretensions of so many fine-dining

restaurants. Kelties, an attractive independent in

downtown Westfield, is just such place, offering a relaxing atmosphere,

attentive service and a menu which spikes familiar-sounding dishes with

well-considered touches of originality. And it's well worth the drive.

Located in a solid old brick building immediately south of Route

32, Kelties is pleasantly decked out in earth and

wood tones, minimalist décor and well thought-out seating. The tables are well

spaced, there's an agreeable little bar area, and the music (obscure show tunes

on our visit) is just loud enough to blot out neighboring conversations.

The menu is shortish and to the point,

listing half a dozen appetizers, a few salads and ten mains. Although

produce might very well be sourced locally, there's no mention of this anywhere

in print; but overall, ingredients appear to be fresh and carefully chosen. The

wine list is concise, if not terribly imaginative, but the drinks menu makes up

for this with a tempting range of "Keltinis,"

devised by the restaurant's bar manager, and concocted on a seasonal basis.

On a recent visit my wife and I sampled a trio of appetizers: the

Memphis-style pork drummetts ($9), the French onion

soup ($7) and the lump crab cakes ($13). Now, for the life of me, I have no

idea what pork drumetts are; they have the flesh and

texture of baby back ribs, the appearance of chicken drumsticks, but have a

flattened bone. Regardless of their specific anatomical origins, these were

tender, succulent and tasty, basted in a rich and slightly sweet BBQ sauce with

just a hint of caramel. Accompanied by a side of dill-inflected coleslaw,

this was a perfect country-style appetizer.

The onion soup was little short of perfect: the broth clearly

house-made, the onions perfectly cooked and the salt content refreshingly

restrained. This was as good a version of this classic as I've had anywhere in

quite a while. Also excellent were the crab cakes, which boasted a very high

proportion of actual crab meat and were as loosely bound as could be without

falling apart. These three dishes alone were worth the drive.

Main courses scored a fifty percent approval rating, with the

juicy and impeccably spiced meatloaf ($18) perfectly capturing the essence of

this Midwestern classic, but adding just enough zip and lightness to make it

truly irresistible. It's one of those dishes that you think you can't possibly

finish, but find yourself returning to again and again for just another

bite. We chose an additional side of homemade mac & cheese which,

although delicious, proved insurmountable. Less successful was the stuffed

airline chicken ($18), which, although obviously prepared from a free-range

bird, suffered from an excess of sage.

Although desserts were a bit of a mixed bag (great bread

pudding, but indifferent chocolate cake), I would certainly put Kelties on my list of restaurants to revisit. Oh yes,

and they offer etiquette lessons, too.


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