The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind when visiting Big Ed’s Alley Inn. Sharing a building with the dive bar next door, its large windows provide a generous view of the strip club across the street. The room sports a funky mix of seating with booths, bar stools and mismatched tables. Despite the location, the place attracts diners from all walks of life, including entire families for Sunday breakfast. Though I’m well familiar with their great chicken-fried steak, Big Ed’s has been hiding a secret from me in plain sight: a dinner menu served Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
My wife and I joined another couple for a meal on a Friday night, and my first impression was how different the vibe is without sunlight streaming through the windows. The lighting is quite low, reminding me of steakhouses I took dates to in the 1980s. Once our eyes adjusted, the menu revealed a surprising number of seafood options, a few chicken dishes, steaks, prime rib, and the lamb chops of which I’d heard rumors.
A man of simple tastes, my buddy ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries from the lunch menu ($9.95, also available with housemade potato chips). The fresh-cut fries were not quite as crisp as I’d prefer, but the flavor was quite good. A cheese-covered, one-third-pound patty of aptly seasoned hamburger was cooked to medium-doneness, though ordered medium rare. A sesame-seed bun, two strips of crispy bacon, and the usual veggies completed the dish.
Dinners are served in classic American style with a choice of soup or salad, a side of baked beans, and a baked potato. A basket full of warm, sliced baguette got things off to a crusty, chewy start. The salads had plenty of fresh greens, onion, tomato, cheese, and housemade dressings. My cup of chicken vegetable soup had a hearty broth and noodles that looked like they might have been made fresh. What better on a cold evening than a good housemade soup?
Big Ed’s beans were very good, with a fair amount of onion, a touch of smoke, and a bit of a spicy kick among the sweet brown sugar flavor. Unfortunately, although tasty, they were served lukewarm. Making up for the bean’s low temperature, some of the biggest baked potatoes I’ve ever seen filled out each plate with fluffy, steaming, spuddy goodness. My wife went all-in with butter, sour cream, and fresh chive that actually looked big enough to be scallion.
Teriyaki top sirloin was my wife’s choice ($17.95, 12oz). The sauce wasn’t overly sweet, and the meat’s flavor was good, but the steak was cooked to medium-well despite having been ordered medium. Based on the burger and then the steak, the chef’s notion of “doneness” differs from mine when it comes to cooking beef.
Our friend’s order of perfectly-fried, beer-battered prawns was served with lemon wedges, cocktail and tartar sauces ($19.95). The cocktail sauce was average, but the tartar had the same spicy kick on the back end as the beans. I liked it best among the two. I prefer cocktail sauce to have more horseradish than this example.
Thankfully, my rack of lamb was cooked a perfect medium rare, served with an excellent mushroom rosemary sauce ($22.95). The rack was sliced into eight chops, served standing up with the meaty ends still connected. Each chop came away from its neighbor with ease, and I chose to hold the Frenched end and dip them in the sauce like a meat pop. If I were dining in fancier digs I might have remembered my table manners and employed fork and knife, but in these surroundings I hoped no one would mind.
The chops were every bit as good as I’d been told, and our overall experience was memorable. It’s probably just as well there is no dessert menu. I couldn’t have eaten another delicious bite.