On their website, 1855 claims both to be “the essence of fine dining” and “the essence of casual dining”. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, these days 1855 seems to be serving up more essence than substance.
In the beginning there was food, and there was beer. And it was GOOD! The menu offered versatile delights: Perfectly balanced burgers, flavorful salads, and inspired pizzas fired in their own wood-burning stove were available for casual dining, along with comfort foods like meatloaf and roasted chicken. Beers on tap ranged from local favorites like New Glarus Spotted Cow to fabulous imports, including Huyghe Brewery’s Delirium Tremens. Dinner offerings included 12 different steaks, ribs, and an impressive variety of seafood dishes.
The original artistry and balance was completely missing in the burgers we had on one recent visit. Our bleu cheese burger was an imbalanced mess. The kitchen plays with strong flavors, which done well can be delectable: bleu cheese, roasted garlic, and spicy mustard. The flavors were overpowering, and the “spicy mustard” (which used to be a brown mustard) bore a frightening resemblance to the mustard you’d put on a ballpark frank. The garlic was greasy and complete overkill. The burger underneath the toppings was completely unnoticeable. Moreover, last time I checked, bleu cheese wasn’t chewy or stringy when melted. So… what was that random cheese nestled between burger and bun? It’s a mystery!
Worthy of note, someone in the kitchen appears to have an onion straw fetish. Very few things make their way out of the kitchen without a nest of battered & deep fried onions perched atop… something on the plate. Inevitably, the Gordon Ramsay living in my mind plucks them off in disgust.
The other burger our party ordered was topped with avocado, tomato and pepperjack cheese. In sharp contrast with the bleu cheese burger, the toppings on this burger were overpowered by the burger itself, and may as well not have been there at all.
On the side, you can choose between skin-on fries, sweet potato fries, or garlic-parmesan fries. Our party found the garlic-parmesan fries to be a little heavy-handed with the seasoning. The skin-on fries and sweet potato fries both offered good flavor, but lacked the crisp & crunch one might expect.
(Burgers with sides cost $7.95 – $8.95)
On another recent visit, we decided to splurge. We started with their Grill Appetizer, described as “prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and scallops, baked in sherry wine herb butter with seasoned bread crumbs and brie” for $10.95. What we received from the kitchen was a gratin dish with 2 scallops and 3 shrimp, wrapped in undercooked pancetta and topped with breadcrumbs and rectangular chunks of brie which weren’t even warm. The scallops were rubbery and the entire dish was so salty that we may as well have moseyed up to a salt lick. The dish was a disaster. Moreover, pancetta and proscioutto are NOT interchangeable. Our party knew the difference — did the kitchen?
Salads were nothing exciting, but they weren’t bad. They were also helpful in cleaning our palates after the atrocious appetizer.
Still, one bad dish doesn’t make a bad meal. We waited, hopeful, for our barbeque rib dinners. In the spirit of the splurge, we both chose to get half-racks with shrimp and a baked potato, for $21.95.
As the waitress made her way to the table, there was trouble afoot. “I’m sorry about the potato. Do you want me to take it back?” To my horror, there was literally a half stick of butter wedged into my baked potato. Because… what’s a potato without a half stick of butter?
More trouble… we had only butter knives, and the ribs weren’t budging. Not only could they not be pulled apart, they couldn’t be cut apart with anything less that heavy-duty steak knives. Rick remarked that he felt like he was eating badly prepared calamari, rather than ribs. The meat was gray and rubbery. As hard as we tried, we found nothing good to say about the ribs. Despite being very hungry, both of us stopped after just a couple of ribs.
The crispy shrimp fared much better. They were hot and flavorful; the shrimp were tender and the breading was delightfully crunchy. Would that there had been more than 2 of them for the additional $5 per dish.
The return of the butter-laden baked potato was a bit anticlimactic. I’ll admit that at this point I was thinking, “Surely the potato will be good.” Sometimes, it’s best not to hope. The skin was tough and rubbery, and the only flavor presented was salt. It was a sad, sad moment for potatoes.
Thank goodness for the bread, which we had to request specifically despite it being part of the meal.
In a last-ditch attempt to fill our bellies, we agreed to share tiramisu for dessert. While the tiramisu was far from impressive, it certainly improved the note upon which our meal was to end. The ladyfinger layers were moderately mealy, but the marscapone was creamy and rich, and the overall flavor of the dessert was undeniably better than anything else we’d eaten at 1855 that evening.
Honorable mention should be given to the server, who was polite and friendly but unobtrusive, and to their willingness to seat us on the patio.
The restaurant is relatively family friendly. The have a decent menu for children, and ample seating. A family can generally eat a meal without being overly concerned about disturbing other diners, and there is plenty of space to walk around with a fussy baby. Highchairs are in good repair, and most of the waitstaff seem less prone than they are at many places to place hot plates and sharp knives in front of little ones.
While we want to love 1855, the lack of love put into their food makes for an unhappy ending to this story. Do we recommend 1855? I’m sorry to say, the answer is a resounding NO.
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