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The new Border Chophouse needs to fully commit to a new identity, not just blur its old one.

On the Borderline

The Border Chophouse
1501 W. Main St.
Daily 11 a.m.-2 a.m.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. This cliché lends itself to any variety of situations and contexts, but none more accurately than when applied to the Border Chophouse.

The old Border, the Texas-Wisconsin Border Café — where for several years members of Richmond's art scene entertained each other — may not have put food before fun, but it was the one, the only Border. In addition to the loud music, screaming chat and lousy service, there was some charm to the grub which, as the title would indicate, offered the indigenous cuisine of both states, side by side. You could get potato pancakes or huevos rancheros, chicken-fried steak or nachos. It was an odd pairing, but it worked in a quirky way.

In the midst of this month's really hot week, we headed for the Fan bastion, newly renovated, renamed and under new ownership. A cooling rain had lightened the air, but it still was unreasonably hot. "This doesn't feel like air conditioning," my guest said, sliding into a booth. Scanning the menu, guest pointed out that prices topped out at more than $20, even though there were plenty of old Border choices under $10. "I don't pay $20 for my dinner and have to shout all the way through it," guest offered. But shout we did, from shared appetizers of St. Louis-cut ribs($12.95/rack) to Heath bar crunch ice cream ($3.95), all the way to an $83 bill.

In addition to sharing the ribs, which featured an uninspiring sauce that may have begun in a bottle, we split a Vietnamese salad ($7.95) for an appetizer. This was a scant plate of greens and cucumbers topped with nicely grilled shrimp and garnished with airy shrimp chips.

My entrée order of filet was preceded by a house salad. The barbecue bleu cheese dressing I had unwisely chosen sounded interesting, but it was so tart I couldn't eat more than a few forkfuls. When the filet arrived, it looked every bit like the 10 ounces promised, but it was a bit chewy and cooked a little beyond the medium rare I'd requested.

Guest's chicken-fried steak was the same standout it was before the change. Napped in thick cream gravy, it kept its crunch. Guest was very impressed by the mound of garlicky creamed potatoes that came along.

While our waitress was delightful, there was a communication breakdown somewhere, as the time span between courses seemed to be lengthened. But, committed as we are to sugar input, we stayed for desserts.

We ruled out the tiramisu, as adding another nationality to the night's cuisine seemed risky. We settled on pecan pie, which was good, and ice cream. The Heath bar crunch ice cream came in a bowl sized for four and actually was the ideal finisher for the evening.

It's true. There's no Border like the old Border. Even when the T-WBC owners opened a West End location many years ago, it didn't hold. So being that there is, was and always will be but one Border, we can't help but wonder what these new guys are trying to do. If it's supposed to be the Border Grown Up, they need to turn down the music and dote on diners as much as they do bar-sitters. And if they don't want to invite invidious comparisons, they should commit to a new identity, not just blur the old one. During the lag between courses, we noticed that it was a lot easier to get a drink than it was to get food. The more things change

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