Nan and Byron’s does family-friendly

06/19/2014 3:22 PM

06/19/2014 7:13 PM

Nan and Byron’s has hit its stride after a few changeups and refinements, zeroing in on a menu that’s functional and a staff that’s practical for its audience.

That means a food lineup that’s mostly straightforward with plenty of simple fare and a few moments of noticeable quirk; an interesting range of drinks; upscale prices; and servers who pay close attention and are extremely accommodating.

It’s an equation that lets the place, which pitches itself as family friendly, hang onto the faintly philosophical, just-a-little-edgier-than-thou vibe it set with the name: Picture the classic painting called “American Gothic” of the farm couple and a pitchfork. The MAP Management group dug a little deeper and found the painter’s models: Nan and Byron.

That’s fun, and a family sort of version of what the group shot for with 5Church (in that case, it created something of a warrior vibe, but with a bit of ’80s dance club look: retro and modern in interesting sorts of ways).

Best of what we tried were excellent chicken wings: half a Buffalo-hot version using cholula sauce and lime; the others glazed with sweet chile sauce and still a mite hot. Also fine: moist meatloaf with a pleasantly zingy sriracha ketchup, a handsome version of a Caprese salad and a lush tomato soup.

And the popcorn that arrives at the table: It’s dusted with an assortment of spices, our server told us, and though it might catch you off guard at first (and everyone at our table sneezed at least once), keep at it. It becomes addictive. Plus: free.

Appetizers stay on the decidedly traditional side, from deviled eggs and hush puppies to pimento cheese (though it’s pleasantly pepper-heavy) with “crudite vegetables” that turn out to be carrots and celery and radish and cucumber. Nothing to scare the kids here. Who couldn’t love “Train Wreck Fries” (with chili, cheese, sriracha ranch), except the person paying $10.50 for them? Those seeking the quirk can go with smoked poblano cheese dip or peppadew peppers, stuffed with cheddar and fried, though no one should go with the wan, skimpily topped bruschetta.

Several main dishes fell a little short: Everything looks beautiful, but the kitchen has a definite tendency to overcook. So brined and roasted chicken arrived surprisingly dry, accompanied by perfect, lovely green beans and “bacon & blue cheese popover,” more a sort of pastry cylinder cut in half filled with blue cheese and blueberry than the classic popover you might expect.

Grilled salmon also proved overdone. A pork chop from the new menu was thick, moist and beautifully cooked, yet topped with a “grilled scallion & pineapple salad” that was sliced fruit and whole lengths of scallion: both dissonant and hard to eat.

Burgers and steaks, spaghetti with meatballs and sides, from mac ’n’ cheese to fries to peas and carrots, rest squarely in the American food quadrant. Recently added tacos use a little jalapeno sauce for heat, and vegetarians will be delighted to find tofu with ginger-soy glaze and a mushroom entree with quinoa, zucchini crepes and romesco sauce.

Salads run a wide gamut, from the recently added Greek (with a chicken kabob) to Cobb, arugula and “Kitchen Sink,” which you might think was along the lines of the train wreck but in fact is all vegetal, except for potato chips, white cheddar and sriracha ranch. (Yes, that’s a recurring flavor.)

Executive chef Jamie Lynch launched Nan and Byron’s and is back full-time right now, I’m told, since relatively short-term chef de cuisine (and general chef-around-town in recent years) Marc Jacksina left for the upcoming Earl’s Grocery in Elizabeth.

You’ll recognize other MAP folks in the dining room; a close eye is kept on service, and it’s working. Ours were consistently well-educated about the place and its food, engaging and attentive. Details are handled and plates arrive smoothly, and if staff’s a tad quick to clear (yes, I do want that last sip of beer), it’s forgivable for the overall effect: Alert and efficient.

The place is handsome, from the gorgeous stamped tin ceiling to a rustic brick and wood esthetic throughout. Artists Matt Hooker and Rodney Raines did the hunter-with-gun-and-bird-in-pastoral-setting work out front: Americana, all right. Seating is comfortable, though if you’re on the banquette that runs down one side, anyone sitting close can bounce you around a bit.

The patio out front is a work in progress, but attractive. Parking can be challenging, but the area’s easy to walk.

And kids really do appear to be welcome, with smiles and help – plus they eat free 5-7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. Dogs, burgers and Beanie Weenies: all covered.

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