The Food Snob recently received a tip about a new eatery in town in a surprising location. According to our tipster, the new Banks Chevrolet dealership on Manchester Street features a little cafe on the premises. We weren't in the market for a new car, but nonetheless, we headed down to the dealership, dining companion in tow.
We were admittedly skeptical during our drive over to Banks; after all, when one gets hungry, one rarely thinks "We should go to that car dealership for lunch." But, the Snob is all about maintaining an open mind to accompany the open gullet. Plus, rumor was that the cafe in question was a satellite of the fairly excellent Red Blazer, so it must be pretty good, right?
Parking was tough, although that will probably change once renovations are complete. We were ushered inside past an armada of brand new Chevys and Cadillacs. Everything still seemed a bit surreal. Once we laid eyes on the restaurant, everything started to make sense. It was set up like an old-fashioned 50s diner, complete with a counter, bar stools and a neon sign reading "Alice's Restaurant." (Was the Guthrie estate contacted about that?)
The place was surprisingly packed for 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday, although 99 percent or more of the customers appeared to be Banks employees. We took a look at the menu, which consisted of a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches, all with car-themed name, like. the Escalade Cuban panini and the Volt buffalo chicken wedge salad. We settled on a CTS chicken ranchero sandwich (CTS is a kind of car, apparently, although ranchero does sound like a pretty sweet SUV name as well) with a cup of clam chowder and an order of meat lasagna.
While we waited, we scoped out Banks's swanky new digs. Aside from the showroom floor and cafe area, they had a lounge with super-comfy chairs and a huge flatscreen. Can we come over and watch football this Sunday?
Our food was ready shortly, and we dug right in. The chicken ranchero panini ($6.99) was a huge sandwich, served on a flavorful asiago foccacini bread. It consisted of hearty, spiced chicken breast with lettuce, tomato and mozzarella cheese, but the real star was the bacon. There did not appear to be any extraneous sauces, but each bite of the crispy bacon yielded a juicy barbecue flavor that rivaled any bacon the Snob had ever consumed. The clam chowder was equally tasty and perfect on a cold, rainy afternoon. There was a hint of spice that we couldn't quite put our finger on that rounded out what was otherwise a standard clam chowder.
The hot meal of the day, meat lasagna, was indeed quite a meal. Served with a wedge of buttery garlic bread, the lasagna most definitely tasted as if it were homemade. The generous serving was topped with a thick layer of melted cheese, browned to perfection, and the interior featured both red and green peppers, a tasty surprise. The meat was flavorful and in balance to the rest of the dish, and also featured bits of sausage or kielbasa, a well-selected accompaniment to the ground beef. It was comfort food at its finest, and as with all good comfort food, it came with a strangely satisfying food coma that followed a short time later.
We were stuffed to the gills after our meal, but we couldn't resist that all-American diner meal topper, the slice of pie from a countertop glass display case. Our slice of pecan came as is, without any bells and whistles, at least on the surface. However, our first taste revealed a surprise ingredient: brandy. This extra kick took the pecan pie from zero to 60 in just one bite.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised and satisfied by our trip to Alice's Restaurant. And the best part was, no one tried to sell us a car while we were there!