Short Orders: Tillman's Roadhouse

Tillman's Roadhouse
324 W. 7th St.

I have no idea who picks the music for Tillman's, but the person has severe issues. I sat out on the patio, where they hide those of us who can't find a Saturday night date, being battered by gloom, despair and longing: "Time After Time," "It Was A Very Good Year," "We're All Alone"...and probably "Alone Again, Naturally" if I'd stuck around long enough.

Maybe the owners hold stock in Zoloft or Prozac.

Their not-so-subtle effort to drive patrons onto a suicide watch list isn't working, however. Bathed in warmth, the dining room comes to life as conversation flows and cocktails empty. Tillman's Roadhouse is a good time--or so it appears from the outside, looking in.

Most people know about Dan Lansberg's talent when it comes to chicken fried steak. But the chef extends that skill throughout at menu of roughneck dishes--skillet cornbread, venison Frito pie, fried pickles, glazed quail--which he gentrifies with a touch that's not always obvious. For instance, the cornbread becomes nearly irresistible thanks to scorch marks on the outside and kernels of roasted corn scattered through the batter. A bowl of nuts they hand out in place of bread are sometimes charred beyond recognition. Yet the flavor reeks of fireplaces and cookouts and other welcome memories.

Landsberg can then turn around and confound expectations, elevating the most basic of ingredients into something special--his freebie bowls of popcorn in truffled butter, or the famous CFS, prepared with hanger steak and poblano gravy.

Only when he steps out of this element does the chef stumble. An example of this is an entree of duck confit tossed with spaetzle, butternut squash and other stuff which ends up resembling either a pricey hash or the contents of a garbage disposal before one hits the switch. In flavor, it's more like an oversalted mess.

But those moments are rare. And given the dispiriting soundtrack Landsberg must listen to, he's allowed a mistep or two. All in all, Tillman's is fun, the kitchen solid, the service downright nice and the scene--for those allowed to enter--compelling enough to draw you back again.

Although, if they play "Tears In Heaven" you should probably just walk out.