Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, located at the base of the 84.51° building, is yet another hit from the wildly successful Thunderdome Restaurant Group, the same people who brought us the ubiquitous Currito chains, Bakersfield OTR, Krueger's Tavern and The Eagle. These guys are experts at turning eateries into gold and their good fortune is well deserved.
Let me state up front that I liked Maplewood overall and they unquestionably serve good food. Their Kevlar-wrapped menu comes from a former Jean-Robert chef and it's bulletproof. What I don't like is the often alienating, hipster, trendy vibe we diners often endure at new restaurants downtown, as well as the misinformation over "cage free" eggs and organic food that continues to spread like a creepily coiffed, bearded, PBR-tinged fog, all used to justify higher prices for nearly everything we eat.
Maplewood's order-at-the-counter process begins with an L-shaped line configuration, a la Chipotle. Two-page menus are set along the wall on the approach to the register. As busy as Maplewood is, patrons will find themselves pressured into quickly choosing an item on the menu lest they be overtaken by the people in line behind them.
Baked goods and bottled beverages are on display as one rounds the corner to the register, which lend the mistaken impression that there is no tap water available. Only later, after we'd purchased bottled water, did we discover that there was a free dispenser and cups hidden near the bathroom hallway, out of view. This seems to be a common trend at upscale eateries: hide the "pauper's water" at all costs.
At the counter, my girlfriend (who was under duress about choosing a menu option lest she hold up the line) randomly picked the Chicken Hash ($14): rotisserie chicken; goetta; a variety of diced russet, purple and sweet potatoes; diced bell pepper; wild mushrooms; jalapenos, corn; and two "cage free" fried eggs served with a grilled slice of toasty ciabatta bread.
I selected the Spicy Chicken sandwich ($11): pulled rotisserie chicken, a spicy Portuguese "piri piri" chili sauce, havarti cheese and slaw on ciabatta bread supplied by Bond Hill's Sixteen Bricks Artisan Bakehouse. Sandwiches come with a side so I chose the black beans.
The restaurant holds about 150 people and was jam-packed. Fortunately, an attendant assists in finding customers a table, which does offset the stress endured during the ordering process. We were given a number and led to a seat within a minute. There isn't really table service per se, but their setup has generated a lot of confusion on Yelp over whether they tip. Since customers order at the counter, it runs against tradition to tip wait staff. But if their staff are paid at a low rate with the expectation that patrons will supplement their pay, then it's a dubious practice, and warrants clarification from the restaurant.
Prices overall are on the high side, which is to say they are normal by downtown standards. For the privilege of eating here, you can have a bowl of greek yogurt with some granola and fruit for $8; chips and guacamole for $8; or $11 omelets. Sports Page on Vine this ain't (which, by the way, I still believe serves up the best veggie omelet downtown, served with fried potatoes and toast for $6.75 plus tip). By no means is Maplewood the most expensive brunch and dinner spot; some would even argue their prices are reasonable for the kind of presentation and care they put into their entrees.
The restaurant places emphasis on healthy food and, as an example, they cite their Avocado Benedict, which lacks the fat and cholesterol-rich hollandaise sauce. And while that dish may in fact be good for you, it has recently been debunked that saturated fat is bad (the myth was perpetuated in part by the sugar lobby who'd sponsored the studies doctors used to guilt us with). Scientists also say that dietary cholesterol does not significantly influence blood serum cholesterol for most people. So, to hell with it: I'm eating my butter and eggs again.
Our meals arrived in less than 15 minutes --pretty good considering how bustling the place was. The plates of food looked gorgeous and, though I gave it the college try, it was hard to screw up these food photos. As good as our dishes looked, we found ourselves ogling the plates on other tables, particularly the fluffy pancakes and the aforementioned Avocado Benedict.
My girlfriend's chicken hash resonated with layers of meatiness from the chicken and goetta to the sweet potatoes, all made substantially tastier dressed in oozing egg yolk. Still, it didn't seem as heavy as it most assuredly was, a great balance of vegetables countering the several proteins.
The spicy chicken sandwich was a bit messy but satisfying: the pleasant crunch of the slaw offered a cool respite from the slow-building heat of the chicken's piri piri sauce. The hearty, chewy ciabatta was a good choice to help secure all the wet ingredients. The black beans were rich and smoky, topped with cotija cheese.
Maplewood Kitchen and Bar is another successful venture in a long line of restaurants by the Thunderdome Group. You may gripe about the pretension and prices, as I did, but you'll likely leave the place feeling like you got your money's worth.