Portion sizes are usually only an issue when they are too small, but they can be just as daunting when they are too big.
If the food is delicious, self-control becomes an issue for me because, even if I know there is plenty to take home for later, I know those leftovers will never be as good as what is fresh and hot in front of me. I also know it bothers some because they feel wasteful if they are unable to take uneaten food home with them.
But in the case of Brevin's Downtown Eatery & Lounge in Churubusco, it wasn't either of these factors that worried me. It was the state of the business; the low prices in relation to the huge plates of food had me worried if the place could survive.
Brevin's has been around since 1991 so I guess I shouldn't worry. It is a staple of the town and has more than its share of regulars who cover more than one generation. And though most places like that rarely change, it seemed as if Brevin's has kept up with the trends.
A couple of now-popular appetizers were fantastic. The beer cheese and flatbread was spot on in flavor and texture. It had a tangy, hoppy flavor, was creamy and smooth, and it was in a sizable bowl that required a second order of toasted pita. Those pita triangles were not only toasted just right, the extra ones were provided gratis.
My order of cheese curds made me giggle a bit when it arrived because of the enormity of the basket and huge pile of fried nuggets in it. They were also nicely prepared – crispy but not at all greasy – so the mozzarella was melted and oozed from every bite. In good old-school fashion, the ranch dressing that accompanied them was homemade and had that rich buttermilk consistency that made me ask for it on a salad during my next visit.
The dinner salad was really lifted by that dressing, and if ranch is not your preference, another throwback was worth trying. The Thousand Island was also made in-house and you could tell right away by its tangy zip.
The only soup I tried was not as enjoyable as the salads. The cheeseburger soup had an odd pale color and lacked cheesy goodness. It was sort of like breakfast gravy with hamburger instead of sausage. It made me wonder why that beer cheese was not made into a soup or used in this soup to produce the desired result.
The nightly special rib-eye with mushrooms was a great option. The steak was cooked to just the right temperature, was lightly seasoned and had just the right amount of yummy fat on its edge. The fried potatoes I had as my side were also nicely cooked, but the onions and peppers I requested with them were forgotten; however, the mushrooms were really all I needed on the side. They were served whole and added quite a bit even though they were rather standalone instead of swimming in a pool of butter.
The mushroom casserole appetizer really needed butter, however. The hefty portion was smothered in mozzarella, but it came off as bland and butter would have helped a lot.
Prime rib is a tradition at Brevin's and the variation I tried proved to me why it has stood the test of time. The Cajun Prime Rib was perfectly cooked for starters and its subtle application of creole spices worked well with the beefy au jus underneath the slab of beef.
I broke one of my big rules by ordering lasagna during one visit. I normally never recommend going Italian at a restaurant like Brevin's – or, really, anywhere other than an Italian restaurant – but there was a comforting aspect of this humongous portion of baked pasta that proved me wrong.
One big square of lasagna is plenty for the price, but, no, Brevin's gives its customers two. I could not even finish one, but it was great reheated at home. It was made with finely ground beef, a tangy, acidic, chunky tomato sauce and a ton of mozzarella. I would have traded some mozzarella for more ricotta, but this dish reminded me of basic homemade lasagna made by every non-Italian mother. There is nothing wrong with that.
There was really nothing wrong with dessert, either. The coconut cream pie was a good restaurant-service option, but the best choice by far was the Brevin's Cookie. This freshly baked cookie topped with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, whipped cream and crushed pecans was warm, gooey, decadent and pretty much flawless.
I also found the service to be flawless. A member of the family that owns the restaurant waited on us one time and that same caring service was repeated by a non-family member the second time.
Though its age shows in its odd-but-unique construction – it has a circular design with some dated features – but new carpet and more modern furniture installed a couple of years ago have helped take the old-school edge off a bit.
But perhaps it is that old-school appeal – and all the free lunches created from those huge portions – that has kept it busy all of these years.
Restaurant: Brevin's Downtown Eatery & Lounge
Address: 200 S. Main St., Churubusco
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Beer cheese ($5.99), mushroom casserole ($5.99), curds ($6.29), soup ($2.29 cup; $3.29 bowl), prime rib ($17.99 for 10-ounce; $19.99 12-ounce), lasagna ($11.99), cookie ($4.25), cream pie ($4.25)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five