East Town takes diners back to the future

Restaurant brings back country cooking to its menu.

06/22/2008 12:00 AM

06/20/2008 7:45 PM

Businesses have to cast off the dead weight to stay afloat when the economy takes a dive.

And that's the time to discover the true personality of a restaurant.

Hearty, simple food won East Town Family Restaurant a flock of loyal customers in and around East Town Market shopping center.

So everything else is gone from the menu now.

That's right: Southwest egg rolls are gone, along with blackened grouper sandwiches and platters, barbecue sandwiches and plates, roast beef, catfish and hot dogs.

Those items were good, but they were a detour, an attempt to win more customers by going in a new direction.

“I just couldn't keep all this product in stock,” said Dennis Ballas, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Jacqueline. “I was turning into a warehouse, not a restaurant.”

So the new menu introduced in March for breakfast, lunch and dinner actually is an old one. Ballas calls it country cooking.

The stars are the $6.95 weekday specials, served with two sides and bread. The selections, depending on the day of the week, include baked chicken, country-style steak, beef tips, stuffed cabbage, and turkey and dressing.

But a restaurant can't survive on pork chops and meatloaf alone, so salads are standouts with customers who want lighter fare. There are five meal-size salads on the menu ($5.95 to $6.95), including marinated chicken, Greek and a taco salad.

The remainder of the menu is familiar but better organized to show off the strong points. Now customers can shop under headings such as Weight Watcher's Delights, Pasta, and Greek Foods. Fried seafood platters also have a prominent place on the menu.

There are a couple of surprises, and Ballas wants these to make an impression. The section of the menu called the Cattle Corner is stocked with new cuts of steak at competitive prices.

Rib-eyes and New York strip steaks come in 10, 14 or 16 ounces ($12.95 to $18.95). These meals include soup or salad, one side dish (including baked potatoes after 5 p.m.) and bread.

The other new addition to the menu is fried seafood specials after 3 p.m. These are the same items available on the seafood menu but at discount prices. Choices include flounder, perch, scallops and jumbo or calabash shrimp (regular prices $8.95 to $10.95).

Breakfast is just as hearty. The combination platters are built around the same foods – rib-eye steaks, country-fried steak, corned beef hash, country ham, pork chops and chicken breast.

Omelets, hot cakes and French toast are big meals, too, but the best prices are for the breakfast special combinations ($3.65 to $6.25) that come with grits, hash browns and bread.

Appetizers, sandwich plates, subs and burgers still have a home here. There's also a children's menu ($3.95 to $4.95) offering spaghetti, cheeseburger, pita pizza, chicken tenders and Calabash shrimp.

“The new menu is refined and to the point,” Ballas said. “You can still come in and find anything you want.”

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