Simplicity & Comfort
[from June 2004 issue]

Every time Carole Greenwood reinvents herself and her menu--and Buck’s is her fourth incarnation--she hones her skills, creating even better food and a snappier ambiance. Putting the name aside--Buck’s Fishing & Camping doesn’t say much about what goes on here--the menu is a minimalist tribute to Greenwood’s evident skills, leaning heavily on her use of the seasonal and market-fresh ingredients for which she is noted. And, as our waitress recites the cook’s philosophy, we learn that her cooking has a hint of homey southern comfort food about it.

The food also, as you read this new menu, exudes an air of deliberate simplicity and comfort appeal that is as welcome as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. And unlike her earlier efforts, prices are modest so that a Greenwood meal doesn’t destroy the week’s budget.

So what’s on the menu? It’s short and sweet, almost too much so, but it touches on some basics. To start: fresh mozzarella accompanies roasted veggies, or devilled eggs, Amish-style, grace bread and butter pickles. And yes, Greenwood catches the iceberg lettuce wave with a stylish lettuce wedge “frosted” with a blue cheese sauce and garnished with dill sprigs and bits of thick, crisp-cooked bacon. The portion is big enough to share, though our waitress had notified us that Greenwood had pared down serving sizes to just this side of dainty. Not really so.

Evidently the menu changes often, if not daily, so you may not get a crack at her soft shell crabs--mysteriously denoted by the word “Virginia,” which may have referred to their origins or to the person who cooked them; all very unclear. Of course, right now is crab season and, apparently, crabbing is great this year, which bodes well for all who love these delicacies. In Greenwood’s kitchen, the crabs receive special treatment with a unique, slightly tart and very light batter that turns the crabs ultra-crispy during frying. Along with the tartar sauce and creamy coleslaw, the crab duet makes for spectacular eating, and you may not wish to share even a mouthful.

On the other hand, the pounded-flat pork chop with its light and crunchy breading hides coyly beneath slightly wilted spinach, and beckons the unwary who think that pork is just pork. Not so. It’s like weiner schnitzel, my friend crowed, delighted with the unusual crisp-tender chop. After all, pork chops are generally served as thick wedges of bone-in-meat, and to render them flat makes for an amusing change of pace. Besides, the spinach salad that envelopes that pork chop contains mint and English peas, an unexpected pairing for pork. It may be deliberate on her part, fearing that folks won’t have much room left for dessert. But Greenwood selects only three sweets for her final salvo, and of these, one may very well be an iced dessert, either a sorbet or an ice cream. If you spot them, order the following: the Texas-style chocolate sheath [sic] cake is served warmed with a gooey chocolate frosting. Wouldn’t you like to be in the kitchen licking that frosting bowl clean? My dessert-phobic friend polished this off. Reaching back for nostalgic treats, Greenwood also devises a killer ice cream sandwich constructed from fat, chunky chocolate cookies pressed together over a creamy ice cream that oozes out with each bite. Something like this may seem so trivial that it’s not worth including on a menu, but Greenwood reminds us that sometimes simplicity works best.

As for the décor: Well, she does get the fishing/camping theme going with the polished woods, the flour sacks lining the bench seats up front, the canoe hanging overhead and the burgundy-burnt orange walls might make you think of an Adirondacks camp. Or maybe not.

You will certainly get the sense that Greenwood has gone casual in a big way. And the best news is that soon, very soon, the restaurant will be open Monday nights as well. That means that in the game of menu roulette, when chefs change offerings on a regular basis, you get a second chance to savor those crabs. Or that chocolate cake. Before they are gone but not forgotten.

Buck's Fishing & Camping, 5031 Conn. Ave.; tel., 364-0777. Open for dinner: Tue.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri. & Sat., to 10:30pm.; Sun., to 9pm. Entrée prices: $15-$32. Visa & MasterCard accepted. Best bet: reconfirm the hours before going.

*Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include food editor of Vegetarian Times, restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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