ITHACA, NY -- In Ithaca, I always admire establishments that are so popular they remain open year after year. I have been eating at the Mahogany Grill, at the same location on Aurora Street (Restaurant Row), for almost two decades. And that’s how long it has been serving quality fare in a comfortable atmosphere. In fact, I used to have a ritualistic response on Sunday mornings and drive downtown to listen to a swinging “jass” band as I consumed seemingly endless quantities of eggs, bacon, pancakes….and, of course, a Bloody Mary or two.
The band doesn’t play there anymore, but the eggs, bacon and pancakes still make a regular procession from the kitchen to the dining room because this is one of the few places on, or near, the Commons where you can still enjoy a full breakfast.
In thinking of Mahogany Grill, I have an image of a steady-as-you-go restaurant that always serves a meal you can count on...reliable, quality food and service with rarely an unexpected high or low. And that predictability probably accounts for its longevity.
That’s not to say that there might not be an occasional inconsistency. Recently, I ordered Chicken Piccata Linguine ($18 at lunch, $22 at dinner). I enjoyed the tender chunks of chicken and sliced asparagus spears on linguine – however, it wasn’t chicken piccata.
Meat – usually a slice of veal or a chicken breast – prepared in the traditional Italian piccata style is pounded flat to be a thin cutlet, then dipped in an egg wash and breaded with either flour or breadcrumbs. Every piccata treatment I’ve ever had, either in Italy or the United States, has been offered as a cutlet, and normally with a lemon-butter or lemon sauce, and often with lemon slices. Some have been dressed up with mushrooms, garlic and paprika, and often sprinkled with parsley before it’s served. Although I didn’t notice any hint of lemon and the chicken was served in chunks at Mahogany Grill, I did enjoy the dish.
If you order a Chicken Club Sandwich ($14 at lunch), you’ll be offered a large slab of chicken breast between romaine lettuce, tomato, red onion slices, bacon and mozzarella.
There’s a small selection of burgers, and I was interested to observe that the Mahogany Burger appears on four different menus (breakfast $15, lunch $15, dinner $16, and take-out $17) so I thought management must be proud of it. I ordered it and was pleased with the overall quality — nothing exceptional, and yet it was a perfectly good bacon cheeseburger with fried onions served on a toasted bun. I ordered a complimentary side order of coleslaw, which was homemade with thick slices of crunchy, tasty cabbage.
At dinner time, the burger selection remains the same, however, the sandwiches exit and are replaced by four featured steaks ($39-$49). There are also four complex salads ($11-$16) and more than a half-dozen macaroni dishes, including the aforementioned chicken piccata.
One of the macaroni dishes available at dinner is Fettuccini Shrimp Scampi ($27). It’s served with four medium shrimp and some spinach, garlic and tomatoes. When I see “scampi” on a menu, I expect to find lemon, butter, and garlic. I like garlic...a lot…and was disappointed that I didn’t notice any garlic at all. And, if there was lemon, it wasn’t discernable either. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the dish — I did like it and would order it again. I just didn’t think it was scampi.
Whoever assembled the wine menu is quite knowledgeable, and covered every major category with a smart representation of areas of origin from New York State, the United States, as well as international. Glasses cost $8-$10 while bottles range from $32-$95. I do have a small criticism of the wines by the glass: they aren’t labeled as “red” or “white” but are presented together as one long list, which could be confusing to some diners.
If the management of the Mahogany Grill can maintain the same consistent quality they have offered our community for the past two decades, I predict they’ll be on the same site for another two decades….and when this darn virus is controlled, maybe management will hire a new “jass band” to entertain us during Sunday brunch.