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DINING REVIER: ELLER’S RESTAURANT

BERNIE WHITEMORE

Eller’s Restaurant
190 Main Street, Cherry Valley
(508) 892-3925
www.ellersrestaurant.com

Just past the Cherry Valley line on Route 9, Eller’s sign lights up the night making the place difficult to miss. Take a step through the door and you get the scent of popcorn popping, a rock anthem playing and multiple flatscreens are variously tuned to local ads, keno and sports. It’s a vista of booths and tables, open space and plenty of families. All brought to you with friendly greetings and prompt service.

My first impression of Eller’s was of an excellent place to serve the Leicester community. It’s certainly large enough; the main dining area feels spacious with gray wood-tiled floors and walls of horizontal planking stained multiple colors.

My friend and I were seated at a booth that was illuminated overhead by a pendant light fashioned from a shiny box grater. First impressions aside, the real test of any restaurant is, of course, its food. So we dove into the menu to make our decisions. It was no surprise to find the dominant focus was on American Comfort cuisine.

Though Eller’s entire appetizer list was worthy of consideration, we both gravitated to their chicken wings, but that’s as far as our agreement went. I was drawn to their Peanut Butter & Jelly Wings. My friend was repelled by the very concept. Heather, our waiter, suggested half an order each. Perfect!

On this we could agree: Eller’s wings were superb. Their crispy exteriors were loaded with sticky spicy-sweet flavor and plenty of tender meat clinging to the bone. My PB&J wings were coated with Thai peanut sauce that looked crumbly but had a smooth texture barely hinting of peanut flavor. They were served over a thin pool of grape vodka jelly sauce. What a unique flavor-textural combo! It’s no wonder they’re becoming so popular.

My friend’s Buffalo wings were also an instant hit with a level of spicy heat that cleared his sinuses, even after a dunking in soothing blue cheese dressing. As much as we tried to eat them with a fork and knife, Eller’s wings are ultimately a hands-on experience. We both needed showers when finished.

If asked to describe American cuisine I’d list at least half the items in Eller’s menu. What I’d never think to mention, though, is Osso Bucco. Yet there it was in Eller’s list of specials. Always a favorite, my friend found it irresistible.

Eller’s version of Osso Bucco braises pork shanks in wine with onions, peppers, carrots, and tomato. The braising process must take hours; the meat was so tender its bones fell away effortlessly. It was served over a deep bed of mashed potatoes awash with the braising vegetables and broth.

I kept my selection All-American with their Pulled Pork and Cornbread entrée. Eller’s execution of this simple-sounding dish went far beyond what I’ve come to expect.

Heather delivered a huge cake of cornbread topped with meaty-thick shreds of pulled pork dripping with BBQ sauce. But no kidding, this hunk of cornbread dominated the plate; four-inches square, two inches thick! My immediate reaction was of worried concern, for if Eller’s cornbread was dry and tasteless my meal would be a resounding dud.

Relief swept over me with my first bites of this combo. The cornbread was fluffy and moist and sweet with a sticky-sweet surface. The pulled pork wasn’t drenched in cloying sauce; Eller’s BBQ sauce had a balance of sweet, tart, and smoky flavors. A monkey dish of creamy coleslaw provided cool crunchy contrast.

The topping of pork had been dwarfed by all that cornbread, but I soon realized how generous the meat portion was; there was no way I was going to finish my meal. Half went home for lunch the next day.

As we were finishing our meals a DJ was wandering table to table distributing Singo cards, an adaptation of bingo set to music. People were firing up Shazam on their phones, readying to play. We paid up and took off, more than comforted by the cuisine at Eller’s and narrowly escaping the musical talents of Cherry Valley.