The menu seemed to be shouting at me the words, “A World of Flavor!”
Lakeside Café Family Eatery had a menu nearly big enough to span the globe. And, given it is in a spot along Coliseum Boulevard North where Cosmos and Liberty Diner II fell to the wayside, I figured it might need a lot of flavor to keep going.
But once I found my way through that vast menu, what I discovered was that this diner had several worthwhile offerings, an acceptable atmosphere and a friendly and competent staff.
That menu was similar to its predecessors and that made sense because Lakeside’s owner, Luis Galicia, worked at the original Cosmos. When that Cosmos closed, he went to the one in Defiance, Ohio, and worked there until the opportunity to open Lakeside Café presented itself. Galicia also honed his diner skills at Omega Family Restaurant on Coliseum Boulevard, which closed in 2006.
His experience working in Greek-owned restaurants was well represented by the Mediterranean salad. It had fresh iceberg lettuce, big tomato wedges, kalamata olives, red onion, cucumber, crumbled feta, pepperoncinis and oregano. It came with a much thicker, sweeter dressing than the usual oil-based vinaigrette most places serve, but it still had the right zesty flavor to accentuate the salad.
Lakeside Café offered a couple of meal-sized variations of this salad: a grilled chicken and a gyro. The gyro version also included fresh, crunchy green peppers and more than a gyro’s worth of sliced lamb and beef gyro meat that was nicely seasoned and of good quality. The salad had a pita on the side, so you could have taken enough meat off to make an actual gyro and still had plenty.
The spinach pie was another Greek winner with three phyllo dough triangles filled with a mixture of feta cheese and chopped spinach that really packed a wallop of fresh, green-vegetable flavor. It was also flanked by a baby Greek salad, roasted Greek-style potatoes and a serving of rather tasty rice pilaf. The only knock was that the potatoes, though roasted well and nicely browned, lacked the punch of lemon and oregano that separates them from regular roasted spuds.
The lemon-rice soup and baklava – a dessert included with all of the entrées in the “Dinner Greek Style” part of the menu – failed to deliver. The soup had too much lemon and was overly acidic. The baklava, served warm, must have been microwaved because its phyllo dough layers were chewy and tough instead of flaky and crisp. It was pretty much inedible.
The other dessert offerings – assorted cakes from Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery – were fabulous. The Coconut Butter Cream cake was the kind of dessert I will go back for again and again. This four-tiered cake was moist, had a rich frosting packed with shaved coconut and the serving size was enormous. Adding to my glee, slices of cake are often sold at half-price on weekends as Lakeside wants to ensure freshness. The Chocolate Fudge cake was just as decadent but was almost too rich at the end of my meal since Lakeside is the kind of place that goes overboard when it comes to portion size.
Other good finds:
•Fried pickles. This appetizer was hard to stop eating. The thin dill chips struggled to hold onto its coarse breading, but they were crunchy, not at all oily and great when dipped into some ranch dressing.
•Fried walleye. I had the all-you-can-eat special during one weekend visit and one plate was all I could eat. Three large fillets – narrow but nearly 10 inches long – covered two smaller fillets on the plate. I had to add some salt to the crispy breading, but the fish inside was light, flaky, moist, sweet and delicious.
•Club sandwich. Turkey and bacon in both layers of this stacked sandwich, the hickory-smoked bacon was perfectly cooked and there was plenty, the bread was lightly toasted so it still had some softness to it, and it was just a great version of this diner classic.
•Farmhouse Frittata. From the breakfast menu, which is offered all day, it had a lot of meat and was plenty filling. In addition to the hash browns and eggs, it had sausage, green peppers, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, and was covered in white gravy. The pancakes on the side were nice, but my side of bacon was underdone.
Lakeside Café does not offer much in terms of décor. It has not changed much since it was Liberty Diner II. It has a boring continental style with lackluster banquet chairs and furnishings.
The service, however, was stellar. The food arrived surprisingly quick, my servers made several suggestions and never left my parties alone for too long.
So given my experiences there, I think Lakeside Café will buck the trend that has haunted the past two restaurants that have called this location home. A plethora of offerings, solid execution of those offerings and employees that know what they are doing should ensure that.
Restaurant: Lakeside Café
Address: 1040 Coliseum Blvd. N.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 1 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Fried pickles ($6.29), Farmhouse Frittata ($8.29), walleye ($7.99), Greek salad ($8.29), spinach pie ($9.29), club sandwich ($7.29), cakes ($3.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).