Dean’s Oak Ridge. To put my review in perspective, let’s travel back in time. Several years ago, there was a restaurant location in Oak Ridge that always struggled. It was at the starting line of what is known regionally as the best place to hold and participate in regattas, at the Oak Ridge Rowing Club. I believe the place had been vacant for years when a guy came along and spent obviously a ton of money, renovated this buidling, made it absolutely spectacular, and named it the Flat Water Grill. It went from nothing to something great over night. Awesome food, good service, and spectacular scenery. The owner sold to the same company that owns the Riverside/Lakeside Taverns and several restaurants in Pigeon Forge like Johnny Carino’s and Bullfish Grill. He has since opened a new restaurant, in again, a very risky spot. Oak Ridge’s Jackson Square. The center of town during the building of WW2′s nuclear bombs, but since then hasn’t seen too many good days. Big Ed’s Pizza is there which is an establishment, as well as the Oak Ridge Playhouse which also is just awesome. It seems like mission accomplished when it comes to his new restaurant, Dean’s.
I think I can figure out Dean’s mission statement, let me try it. “A family restaurant with fresh house made bakery items, homestyle food, in a friendly, clean, and open atmosphere.” He has done a great job of taking what was a dingy corner of Jackson Square and renovating it into a nice warm restaurant. Now loving Flatwater Grill, this should be a great dinner. Let’s get down to it.
My wife and I walked in and were very impressed. A clean enviroment that felt very warm. Not overly decorated, but very tasteful. They had a small bakery counter on the right, and to the left they had 16 tables. Normally I would never count how many, but it was weird. Half of the dining room was just empty, open space, the other half had the tables. Not very many, especially when the restaurant itself would look better if it had at least double, maybe even triple that many. Felt a little empty. Also on the front of the hostess stand, there was a sign, it said “Call ahead seating starting in October” I had to check my calendar, this is February. They are really thinking ahead. If I can remember, in a short 7 months I can call ahead. Our server also said that in August they are planning on expanding, maybe that is when they fill the place up with tables.
There were several, very attentive servers working throughout the restaurant. Ours was a very friendly girl, that was eager to please. We were struck with her choice of verbage however, on a few different occasions. The first was when she checked on our meal. She asked if we were enjoying everything, which we said we were, and then asked if she needed us to fix or change anything with our meal. A weird question. Brings to mind the question if they often have to “fix or change” items that customers order. After the meal, she asked us with a very concerned look on her face, “Did you guys enjoy everything, or no, not really?” That is so crazy. I asked how long she had been working there, and she is very new. She also stated that she had never eaten there, so it seemed as if she was asking our advice on whether she should dine at her place of employment or not. She was however extremely friendly, and with a little server training, could be fantastic.
I opted to order the Pot Roast (7.99) , a true measure in my opinion of any homestyle restaurant. I ordered it with mashed potatoes, and a small caesar salad. The caesar salad (1.25) being considered “small” was silly. It was a huge salad, offered at a fantastic value. The only negative was that it was served in a HOT salad bowl fresh out of the dish machine. They had two huge stacks of room temperature bowls that could have been used. Even better, chill it. It’s the little things that people notice these days. The mashed potatoes were fresh, HOT (which seems to be hard for restaurants to accomplish with potatoes, they always seem cold) and homemade. The pot roast was a let down. I’m pretty sure it came to them pre-cooked, in a bag, for it was really shredded, no chunks, and had a watery taste. In fact is was swimming in a pool of it’s water, not jus, on my plate.
My wife ordered Turkey Club (7.95) on wheat bread, and opted for French Fries. The fries were homemade and fresh, and the sandwich was great. The bread was toasted perfectly, and they went heavy on all the ingredients. They used quality ingredients, and the value was fantastic.
I had high expectations since I was a fan of their previous restaurant. Overall, it was just OK. The prices they charge are probably the lowest in town, and they could easily raise them 20%, and they would still be a great value. Unfortunately, there are a few things that need addressing before it could be a favorite for me. I little bit of staff training and a little more focus to detail in the kitchen would but this place at the top. The value and the amount of food you get for what you pay is off the charts. Heck, you can even get a free piece of pie if you eat dinner at the “pie bar”. It is a tall table with no chairs. Eat your dinner standing and your rewarded with a free piece of pie. One of the most fun, yet ridiculous ideas I have ever seen, and would never do. I like to sit when I eat, even if i have to pay for the pie. My last comment is the FOH staff looked very professional with their starched and pressed white aprons, jeans, and knit shirts. The kitchen staff in their baker’s shirts, did not live up to the dress appearance the FOH displayed. I would like to see them sharpen up their duds since they are on display.