I suspect The Chef's Hut—the type of restaurant that probably sees the same faces most days—is a secret among its regulars. Finding the restaurant reflects this below-the-radar feel, as the building itself is hidden in the back of a nondescript office complex on the east side of Cole Road, opposite the mall. Be prepared to spend some time squinting at signs.
The Chef's Hut makes no claims at being fancy in appearance or menu. You will be welcomed when you walk in the door, then free to choose a seat on your own in the one-room establishment. The menu is simple and direct classic American fare, categorized in breakfast items and lunch items. You will find a no-pretense selection of hamburgers, hash browns, milkshakes and chicken sandwiches, all reasonably priced and available 'til the doors close at 2 p.m.
I started out with onion rings, a surefire way to gauge any grill. My onion rings were crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, the way an onion ring should be, perfect for dipping in the fry sauce provided. While well-prepared, the flavor was nothing remarkable, with no special seasoning or other treatment to potentially set them apart as stellar. I had hoped, too, that since I ordered the onion rings off the appetizer menu, they would come before the rest of the food, but this was not the case. The service for the entire meal was friendly if slow, although admittedly there was only one server working during the lunch rush.
As a vegetarian, I was hard-pressed to find anything for a main course. Even most of the salads were loaded with meat. I settled on the lone meatless entree, a veggie omelet ($6.95) with cheddar cheese, green peppers, mushrooms, onions and, surprisingly, spinach. The spinach added a welcomed and unexpected touch, although a little ground pepper and a little longer on the grill would have taken it up a few notches.
My associate, a meat eater, opted for a chicken sandwich ($6.95) with the soup of the day, vegetable beef. The soup was the best part, I was informed, a mellow touch that counterbalanced the greasiness of the rest of the meal. As the menu brought to mind a 1950s cafe, we decided to complete this experience and try the chocolate malt shakes ($2.95), which were served with whipped cream on top and had a good crisp malt consistency.
When I picked up the menu and saw the wide assortment of burgers, I had hopes that there would be a veggie burger hidden amongst the ground beef and bacon variations, but such was not the case. Vegetarians learn fast that following a no-meat diet often means walking a lonely road while eating out. If meatless options exist, they are usually given a low priority on many menus. Still, the garden-variety vegetarian isn't wired like a PETA zealot; I don't take offense that restaurant menus don't cater to my preferences. But when I do find a Boca on the menu, I appreciate the gesture. Some restaurants will keep a solitary pack in the freezer, just in case one of my number shows up—an easy move that assures the vegetarian diner will feel welcomed and probably come back again.
Ultimately, if a no-frills small-town diner style establishment sporting classic American fare appeals to your tastes, then The Chef's Hut might be your place. It has the off-the-beaten-path appeal that makes for an ideal rendezvous location, all the more so for the proximity to the mall. Additionally, The Chef's Hut is a genuine grill alternative to the cookie-cutter Chili's and Applebee's "neighborhood grill" style chains amongst the urban sprawl. However, if you go looking for new culinary experiences, low cholesterol options or vegetarian entrees, keep looking.
—Mathias Morache gives meat the cold shoulder.