Dining » Dining Review

Cheers!

A different approach to the Heights stalwart.

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NEW ORLEANS BBQ SHRIMP: Will transport you to the city that care forgot.
  • NEW ORLEANS BBQ SHRIMP: Will transport you to the city that care forgot.

We don't get to Cheers in the Heights as often as we should. It is one of the best, most enduring restaurants in town, thanks to the fine overall experience Samantha and Chris Tanner have consistently offered over the 15-plus years they've owned the place.

It's just that we spend a ton of time at the Tanners' other place — Samantha's Tap Room and Wood Grill, which they opened two and a half years ago on Main Street. And it's a three-block walk from our condo while Cheers is a 4.5-mile drive. Not that Samantha's and Cheers offer the same food or the same vibe, but they both pretty well guarantee a really great time, whether you're there for lunch, happy hour or dinner.

But we do get Cheers hankerings, and when one struck on a recent Friday night, we headed west. Our timing was perfect as a table cleared just as we walked up. We quickly zeroed in on the seafood-focused dishes that dominate the appetizers section of the menu and realized we could easily create two meals right there. Heck, we even brought home leftovers.

Our five apps-as-dinner choices:

Smoked Salmon Dip ($8.50). We're not huge salmon fans, but we love this dish because it's not very fishy. Served cold, it's extremely smoky and prettied up with a bit of chives. It's a bountiful portion served with more than enough sesame crackers.

Fried Oysters Remoulade ($9.50). If we could put red flashing lights on printed prose, this is the first place we'd hang them. We were thrilled with the full dozen smallish oysters, fried crispy but not overcooked and lightly drizzled with remoulade. These are now contenders with the oysters at Maddie's Place for our favorites in town.

New Orleans BBQ Shrimp ($12). More flashing lights, please! The taste and presentation of these eight tender, meaty shrimp take us back to fun meals at Mister B's Bistro in New Orleans, only on an appetizer-sized scale and with no bib. The oily sauce with plenty of red pepper, not tomato-based sauce, is what makes these "barbecue," and we appreciated the chewy bread for dipping.

Crab Cakes ($9.50). As the price tells you, these two small cakes aren't of the "lump" variety, but they still have a very acceptable meat-to-filler ratio. The chipotle lime aioli provides a pleasing citrus brightness. 

Crab Claws ($17). This is the one we won't get next time. There are lots of slender claws that have been peeled back so you can just bite down with your front teeth, pull the claw back out of your mouth and enjoy what's left. At least in theory. The formula worked on the larger claws, but the smaller ones were stubborn, and extra biting only left us with a combo of meat and shell. And the taste wasn't that distinctive from the BBQ shrimp.

FRIED OYSTERS REMOULADE: Hand-breaded and cooked just right: crispy outside, not overdone inside.
  • FRIED OYSTERS REMOULADE: Hand-breaded and cooked just right: crispy outside, not overdone inside.

We would have been happy to have continued our seafood theme when it came to dessert, but there was no lobster crème brulee or scallop sorbet to be found. So we opted for Pat's Homemade Carrot Cake ($4.50) and Warm Chocolate Cobbler with Ice Cream ($6.50).

Pat, we learned, created this cake in the earliest days of Cheers, which equates to almost 40 years ago. Its distinctive feature is the almost liquefied cream cheese icing, which would make a pretty fine dessert even without the moist cake that hides beneath it.

The warm chocolate cake with ice cream has become such a common offering that we usually steer clear. But this one shines above those others — really gooey cake with real whipped cream are keys to its wonderfulness.

To understand the vibe at Cheers, remember "in the Heights" is part of its name. It's a classic neighborhood bistro, a really small space that's been about doubled through the long-ago addition of an outside covered patio space seating. It's in a vintage Heights building with brick walls and an old tin ceiling. Gray wall paint unifies the space, and Tracee Gentry Matthews' colorful paintings, all for sale, liven up the place. It's homey, and clearly is a regulars' sort of place — though still welcoming to a couple of downtown interlopers.

Cheers in the Heights
2010 N. Van Buren St.
663-5937

cheersith.com

Quick bite (sip)

Cheers' co-owner Chris Tanner is a former wholesale wine salesman, and his connections and knowledge pay off for Cheersgoers — not just with decent prices, but with the chance to order wines not widely available on local restaurant menus. Two from our last trip — Flowers pinot noir and Cakebread chardonnay. And you can get them by the glass, not just by the bottle.

Hours

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Other info

Full bar.


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