Quirky is good

Possibly, the most accurate way to describe Everybody’s Place is “quirky.” And that’s a good thing. Not many restaurants with any pretensions of serving good food allow quirkiness into the mix. If they do, it’s overly self-conscious and grates rather than amuses. And, too often, such quirkiness is marketed to within an inch of its life by chains trying to be hip.

Everybody’s Place is definitely not hip, but it is extremely quirky.

I had been trying to eat there for months, ever since a friend recommended it. But every time I called, it was closed. Finally, I found it open, and we dashed down to Newcastle to check out this restaurant, open only six months in a former packing shed in the heart of Newcastle. It’s just around the corner of Constable Jack’s, which has been making a name for itself by booking an eclectic mix of blues and Americana acts, like Fred Eaglesmith. The space was a barbecue joint for many years, and it has retained the rustic barn-siding interior with no discernible decorative changes.

The restaurant makes a point of creating as healthy an environment as it can, which doesn’t mean that it skimps on the butter and cream. What it means is fresh local produce, filtered water, non-toxic cleansers and sea salt in the kitchen. Certainly, the dining room is scrupulously clean.

Everybody’s Place is the baby of Stephen Paul, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who spent some quality time in Switzerland—as evidenced by the menu. The emphasis at the restaurant is on organic ingredients, with beef ground in-house. The restaurant serves its own meatless burger, a blend of toasted nuts, brown rice, mushrooms, onions, cheese and egg. Burgers are big there, including a Mexican version and one topped with the restaurant’s black-bean chipotle chili. Sandwiches, available only at lunch, include the Jerry Reuben and Jerry’s Evil Vegetarian Twin, featuring soy pastrami.

The dinner menu, however, is extremely limited, which is good if you’re one of those indecisive diners who has a hard time choosing from a lengthy list of options. And I do mean limited; there are seven choices, if you include the three toppings possible on the penne Alfredo. All dinner entrees are served with rolls, your choice of soup or salad, and either Yukon Gold potatoes or a rice pilaf.

We tried the rib-eye steak Monte Carlo ($17.95), a 10-ounce hunk of beef topped with a nugget of butter flavored with brandy, tarragon and curry powder. In an example of the homey, hokey menu descriptions, the menu copy for this read as follows: “The recipe was almost lost forever when (the chef) was caught trying to smuggle Tiparillos into Cuba. Lucky for the dining public, he was branded an inFidel [sic] and deported to Newcastle.” Bad puns aside, the steak was perfectly grilled, though it was a bit beyond the medium rare requested. The meat was tender and perfectly seasoned by the butter; the curry powder proved to be an unusual but delicious addition. The soup and the side vegetables were very good, showing an attention to the smallest details. The soup of the day was clam chowder, and it stood out because of the use of whole clams rather than the usual chopped-up pieces. The sides of broccoli and squash also stood on their own, thanks to a deft touch with the seasoning and sauté time.

The chicken piccata ($13.50) was one of the best versions I’ve ever tried. A boneless chicken breast was pounded thin, dipped in a beaten egg, sautéed and topped with lemon juice and capers. Somehow, the chef succeeded in sending out a perfectly tender, juicy breast with a slightly crispy topping, with just the right proportion of lemon and caper to add the requisite tart and salty taste components.

The restaurant is justly proud of its desserts, which, on a recent visit, included a Black Forest cake and a dense, flourless chocolate torte. We split a slice of Linzer torte, a dense, ground-nut cake with a raspberry jam filling. It was the perfect end to the meal—not too sweet—and went perfectly with small cups of strong coffee.

Everybody’s Place has provided a welcome addition to quality dining in the foothills. Its location, close to the freeway and to Constable Jack’s, also makes it a worthwhile dining destination, especially in conjunction with a good concert in an intimate venue. Just make sure you call first to be certain it’s open.