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House-training

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At a mere three months old, Weezie's Kitchen is experiencing the same kinds of challenges that many restaurants face in the early days of service: confusion over menu items, dispute over server territory, menu changes and kitchen changes.

In time, these things either settle down or they don't, and restaurants either thrive or die. Just ask the owner of the two previous restaurants in this should-be-perfect Carytown location (Limani and Duro).

We learn from the back of the menu that a few months before they opened for business, the owners hadn't settled on a name for their soon-to-be restaurant. So when their pet pug, Weezie, died, a tribute restaurant of sorts was born. But the creativity seems to have ended in the naming of the place.

It's too bad. Imagine the possibilities: "Flat Cat Pancakes," a section of appetizers called "Kibbles and Bits," a dessert called "Good Dog Sundae." You get the idea. Sure, it's hokey, but at least it would have been a concept -- and very appropriate for this dog-crazy town.

But that's not what they did. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as brunch and late night until 1:30 a.m., Weezie's vacillates between diner, bar, diner-bar, lunch counter and up-scale casual dinner place. It can't figure out what it is. Neither can I.

All of this would be as overlooked as Einstein's shaggy hairdo if the food were half as smart. Instead, imbalance seems to be the leading characteristic of much of what members of my party and I have sampled across numerous visits and multiple meals.

The homemade gazpacho is full of fresh ingredients whose delicate summer flavors are all but obliterated by a quantity of garlic way out of proportion to the rest of the flavors. The hot spinach artichoke dip with lump crab is so heavy on the spinach that the crab serves only to add lump to the otherwise thin and runny appetizer.

The hummus has great potential and shows an unusual peppery bite, but needs more lemon juice (if it even has any) to lift, sharpen and balance the pasty alkalinity of the chickpeas. A simple appetizer of fried green tomatoes comes out nuclear hot, topped with shrimp and smothered with an overweight, cream-based crab sauce. It's a confusion of flavors.

The meatloaf is a relative standout served over mashed potatoes and gravy. But the chicken Marsala seems to get its only flavor from the cayenne pepper in the flour dredge.

Thinking that Weezy's true identity might be more in the breakfast/lunch category à la Perly's or Becky's, I stopped in for breakfast one recent morning. The service was warm and friendly, a good start to any morning, and the Rostov's coffee is a nice touch. But my two eggs over easy had the flavor of the grill. And why my breakfast plate needs to have its rim decorated with paprika and chopped parsley I can't say. But there it is, as it is on every plate that comes out of the kitchen — breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lunch is a better bet, featuring a traditional lineup of club sandwiches, subs, burgers and melts. The grilled cheese was very simple when I ordered it for lunch. But when my 4-year-old son ordered it for dinner, he was offered a range of cheeses not offered to me: cheddar, American, Swiss, even feta. I asked the server whether that was how the sandwiches came, with a choice of cheese. She said she didn't know, but that it just seemed like it would be more interesting with different kinds of cheeses. She's right. And there's a lesson for the management in that.

Desserts show greater promise. The brownie sundae is solid and rich, and the cheesecake is tall and light. A particular treat was the chocolate mousse with toffee crunch served in a martini glass.

So here's the conundrum: In a city with plenty of restaurants — especially the neighborhood local — every new place has to set itself apart with a particular thing, even if that particular thing is not the food but the atmosphere of welcome and hospitality. So far, Weezie's Kitchen has not told us what it does better than anyone else. I'm willing to give it time. It is, after all, only three months old. But second impressions are hard to come by in this business. S



Weezie's Kitchen ($-$$)
3123 W. Cary St.
726-1270
Tuesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-1:30 a.m.




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