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  • Cajun shrimp at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • Cheesy Rosemary Gnocchi at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • The Pork Stacker at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • Portobello mac and cheese at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • One10 West Main in Albion.

  • New York strip at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • Main Street burger at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • One10 West Main in Albion.

  • Meatball and cabbage soup at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • The Gateway with bourbon, bitters, maple syrup and bacon at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • Savory polenta appetizer at One10 West Main in Albion.

  • The famous urinal rescued from the courthouse at One10 West Main in Albion.

Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Albion diner worth making short road trip

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

One10 West Main

****1/2

Out of a possible five

$$$

It was the perfect place in a not-so-perfect place.

One10 West Main was nestled in downtown Albion, and I loved everything about it except having to go to Albion to dine there – not that it was hard to find a good reason (Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, perhaps?) to visit the charming little burg.

It is just that I liked it so much, I really wished it was closer to my home.

The space is not new; it was home to the Friendly Inn for years, but its new incarnation is a significant upgrade. It still has all the old rustic charm the building offers, including the coolest urinal I have ever seen. This giant marble piece of art was rescued out of the courthouse and is so big one could bathe in it.

I know a review isn't the place to be discussing a urinal, but, as owner Jay Hayes will tell you, it is a focal point.

“I can't tell you how many people have asked me to take their picture next to it,” he said, chuckling. “Everyone marvels at it.”

Hayes has been doing more than taking pictures at his restaurant, and his journey into it was not a purposeful one. As the local dentist tells it, he tried to help a struggling owner several times over.

“Well, now I own the place,” he said, cutting the story short and sewing it all up in one fell swoop.

What Hayes has now is something he should be very proud of.

My first taste of the food at One10 was not only delicious, it was unique.

The Rosemary Gnocchi appetizer was done like macaroni and cheese and it was fantastic. The perfect little potato dumplings were poached in a scrumptious cream sauce with stringy melted fontina, white cheddar, mozzarella, Romano and Asiago cheeses. It was a simple, super-cheesy, welcoming treatment for gnocchi that I was surprised I hadn't seen elsewhere or thought of myself.

During another visit, a Savory Polenta appetizer proved just as yummy. It was topped with seasonal sautéed mushrooms and its consistency was thick, kind of like porridge. My server said the chef would remake it if we didn't like the consistency.

But there was no way I was sending it back.

The slightly sweet corn flavor worked its magic on the hearty, buttery mushrooms and their punch of umami. It was delicious, so I did not hesitate to try what was One10's most impressive dish, which also included polenta.

The only thing the Cajun Shrimp needed was a fancier name. It featured three giant shell-on prawns over a much creamier white cheddar polenta with roasted red peppers and pineapple salsa. It was a challenge to free the meaty, sweet shellfish from their shells and you will get some spices on your fingers doing so, but the work is worth it.

This saucy polenta added just the right richness and the pineapple tamed the already-mild spice mix that found its way onto the shrimp meat inside. This dish was gorgeous on the plate – even more worthy of photographing than the urinal – and even better in my mouth. And I have a good reason to try it again as Hayes said a summer version with barbecued shrimp will soon replace it on the menu.

Given how much I loved the cheesy gnocchi, the Portobello Mac and Cheese seemed like a great way to try a vegetarian dish. And not only was it a winner, it was the most filling dish I had at One10, even beating out the New York strip steak.

Two big marinated mushroom caps were perfectly grilled so they were a little firm and had nice char marks, but they were still very moist and seemingly juicy. The marinade also perfectly seasoned them so they were full of flavor. On top was the same creamy cheese and sauce the gnocchi had and sliced cherry tomatoes, which added bursts of juicy acidity to round it all out.

My strip was OK but seemed too straightforward. The 12-ounce Angus beef had a large pat of bourbon butter melting over the top of it, and it was needed because the steak had little seasoning. It was a good cut of meat in terms of texture and fat content, and was cooked to the right temperature. With simple red potatoes and grilled asparagus, it was enjoyable but not an exciting meal that would bring me back.

I would go back to have another Main Street Burger, however.

For starters it had a great juicy, meaty patty. That tasty slab of beef was topped with caramelized onions, sharp white cheddar and sweet bacon jam. That jam gave it sort of a meatloaf vibe that I loved and the cheddar was sharp enough to stand up to the sweetness of it and the onions.

It was delicious.

It was hard to find something that wasn't delicious at One10 West Main. The menu is not large and everything is fresh; not necessarily by design but by necessity.

Hayes says the small kitchen limits freezer space so only one meat item is frozen. That small menu gives it the perfect brewpub feel – and, yes, there are some great beers and inventive cocktails to choose from such as The Gateway, a mix of bourbon, bitters and maple syrup with two strips of bacon sticking out of it.

I turned to the “pub fare” section of the menu to find a great bar snack to go with that cocktail – the Pork Stacker. Super crisp, skin-on steak fries were topped with melted shredded cheese, hickory-smoked pork and blackstrap molasses barbecue sauce. It was salty, sweet, meaty, cheesy and could not have been better executed.

The Meatball-Cabbage soup also could not have been better prepared. A rich, fatty chicken stock was full of tender little pork meatballs, carrot slices and cabbage and was so perfectly seasoned I couldn't stop eating it.

In fact, the only flaw I could find with One10 was its lack of house-made desserts. Cheesecakes and like are offered, but nothing homemade like I might expect to find in a cozy small-town restaurant like it.

But that could change, too, because Hayes, who is kind of learning the restaurant business on the fly, was talking about finding a way to make some of his old family dessert favorites in that tiny kitchen.

Restaurant: One10 West Main

Address: 110 W. Main St., Albion

Phone: 260-636-8965

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Gnocchi ($7), Pork Stacker ($8), soup ($3 cup; $5 bowl), mushroom polenta ($6), shrimp ($22), strip ($24), Portobello Mac & Cheese ($15), burger ($11)

Rating breakdown: Food: **1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.