When Brock Ballard walked into then Yuk Yuk’s on Kenmount Road for the first time, as a new employee, he thought it looked like his idea of the perfect cabaret. He was right. After all, like he says, it’s built around a microphone.
Uptown striploin steak Lyons. — Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram
Ballard’s affinity for cabaret comes from a childhood desire to work in theatre management and from several years spent learning design and stage management at Florida State University’s School of Theatre.
He eventually became so confident about the venue’s potential as a dining, entertainment, special performance and corporate event destination, he bought into the business. In fact, he’s owner of what is now called Uptown Grill and Bar.
As the premier venue in St. John’s for standup comedy, both when it was Yuk Yuk’s and now as Uptown (home of Yuk Yuk’s comedy), the space required good sightlines from every nook and cranny. In addition, it has comfortable seating at tables and booths — the booths being on the upper tier of the tiered room.
Uptown’s booths, by the way, are sponsored by various local companies. A clever strategy on Ballard’s part to generate additional revenue. The signage above the booths is quite corporate looking but tasteful.
A dinner theatre atmosphere makes the absence of windows forgivable. The stage is permanently lit and the peripheral tungsten glow combined with individual table lamps creates a pleasant, snug feeling.
Everything at Uptown, including the restrooms, appears meticulously scrubbed and polished, like a naval ship ready for inspection. I don’t usually comment on such mundane things but, in this, Uptown made a strong impression.
Uptown’s kitchen, like many in St. John’s, has recently been something of a carousel for chefs. Fred French, who had been there several years, moved on and was replaced by Stacey Coish.
Chef Coish’s tenure was fleeting at best. Now sous chef Norm Mitchell is Uptown’s head chef. He seems to be settling into the job very well.
Ever thought of marinating your jumbo shrimp in rum before cooking them? If it’s Malibu rum and you’re making coconut shrimp, the idea is not so off-the-wall. Uptown’s Malibu coconut shrimp were steeped in Malibu, then dredged in a mixture of breadcrumbs and desiccated coconut and fried.
I received my golden brown crustaceans hung around the rim of a martini glass filled with pineapple tartar sauce.
The crunchy, luscious, coconut tinged shrimp coupled well with the fruity, slightly tangy sauce.
I’ve tasted many types of seafood chowder. The white, creamy Boston style is ubiquitous.
Of the several versions I’ve sampled, I’ve never had better than Uptown’s (although, the Boston chowder I had in Boston may have had a slight edge).
Uptown’s contained chunks of cod, shrimp, baby clams and two mussels on the shell.
The soup of the day was vegetable with shell pasta. It was thick with vegetables: corn, broccoli, carrot and green peas.
I enjoyed the garden flavours and the extra pep from a dash of something acidic, possibly vinegar.
I was a little disappointed that the biscuit, advertised to accompany the soup, never materialized. Soup’s always better with something baked.
A boneless chicken breast with drumette attached is much more appealing and delicious than a plain, boneless, unattached breast.
The Uptown herbed fowl with drumette and chasseur sauce was not quite as advertised. Our server pointed out that it would be served with rosé sauce instead.
Chasseur and rosé are very
different. The former is meat flavoured, the latter is cream based with a hint of tomato. I like both and so does chicken. In fact, my plate could have done with a bit more of the sauce. Chicken, vegetables and fries were all nicely done. A few of those immature cobs of corn (always low on flavour in my book) gave extra colour and texture.
Steak is a staple in restaurants catering to a broad clientele like Uptown’s. No surprise that grilled striploin was at the top of the menu. As with the previous entrée, everything tasted like it should have, although the menu-listed caramelized onion demi-glace seemed to be missing.
I assumed the restaurant’s supply of demi must have run out, as demi-glace is also a key ingredient in chasseur sauce. Our server didn’t shed any light on the mystery of the missing sauces.
It’s music to my ears when I hear that a restaurant prepares everything from scratch. Uptown also prepares its own desserts.
The orange chocolate mousse delivered on most counts, except while I tasted lots of dark and milk chocolate flavours, I didn’t taste much orange. When you give the word “orange” top billing, it shouldn’t be a bit player in the production. The slice of orange that decorated the plate only served to tease.
I’ve tried the Uptown dining experience with a show and without a show. Both times were enjoyable. While the comedy can go either way, depending on what a person finds funny, the food is consistently good and competently prepared. It’s not haute cuisine but it is good home-style cuisine served by warm, friendly people.
Uptown is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shows happen Wednesday to Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday is amateur comedy night while all others are professional Yuk Yuk’s nights. Reservations are recommended Thursday to Saturday. Dinner and show packages are available.
Rating: * *
Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $160 (approximately)
Sound level: Moderate
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent
* * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One
Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary
Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells