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Food snobs missing out on a good thing at Fifteen Fifty's

Food snobbery is out of control in North America. Don't get me wrong.

Food snobbery is out of control in North America.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that we are no longer the town that a generation ago embraced Salmon Oscar as the pinnacle of haute cuisine -- and the recognition of the bounty of regional ingredients we have is a good thing. But foodies who turn up their noses at the very idea of the black cod their immigrant grandparents ate, as they nibble sablefish, often don't have a clue that it's the same thing.

The emergence of the North American palate has been co-opted by a bizarre notion of classism. Yuppies carrying Filofaxes packed with business cards of people they would never have any reason to call have given way to people who deny that they have ever tasted ketchup. Please.

My friends John and Lori enjoy fine dining. In fact, recently, after a lengthy meal and various wines to wash it down, I awoke in their guest room the next morning with my thoughts firmly set on iced water and coffee. Within the hour, we decided that it was a good idea to let someone else make us brunch.

Our priority was somewhere we could reach quickly, and so for the first time I found myself seated in Fifteen Fifty's. For years I thought it was a bar, but in fact it's something that would send shudders through food snobs everywhere -- a pub-style family restaurant. Yet along with blackboards, flat screens and promotional material from the liquor industry, I noted something more critical, namely a room full of happy customers.

We quickly narrowed down choices from the substantial menu for more food than we needed. Reasonable French onion soup, like the skewers of lightly curried chicken, vanished almost instantly. Lori's shrimp melt was served on an English muffin, slathered with Hollandaise and Edam, and came with enough home fries for all three of us.

I chose an open-faced sandwich loaded with chicken, sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms, and melted cheese. Heart smart no, delicious yes, though it would have been better had it arrived on the promised garlic bread rather than the soft white alternative I received.

John's choice was an enormous chimichanga filled with beef, rice and refried beans smothered in cheese and salsa, big enough to give a rugby player pause for thought, though he managed it. Nothing we ate cost more than $14.

Leaving, we made noises about visiting for the advertised prime rib special sometime. Before that could happen, though, I returned with my friend Reed after an evening I will probably address in a future column, which saw the first two places we visited struck off the list in quick succession.

We shared crab cakes which, though not housemade, were quite good, and perogies smothered in bacon and onions. It was pasta night, and seeing what was landing on nearby tables, I chose penne Alfredo with bacon, caramelized red onions and mushrooms, receiving a huge plate I couldn't finish, for $8.

Reed's choice, pollo rancheros, was twice the price, but even without appetizers, this mound of charbroiled chicken, refried beans, bell peppers and rice served in a plate-size tortilla basket smothered with cheese and salsa also fed two people, and half of it was wrapped up to go. Though he wasn't thrilled at first, Reed gradually warmed to the place and we agreed that service and prices were good, the food was obviously prepared to order, though as was the case on my first visit, it took a little longer than we liked.

When I did return for prime rib, I visited on a Sunday when it's served in the English manner of slices smothered in gravy. It arrived quickly, with roasted red potatoes, freshly cooked vegetables and a Yorkshire pudding that could be improved upon, but it was less than $12 and they had horseradish, so I was happy.

In response to the howls of indignation from people who will wail that I have given this spot a higher rating than some of its more expensive peers, the reason is simple. I am more impressed by a casual venue that makes a good burger than a hot spot with trendy decor and overpriced food.

The owner here puts a mission statement on the front of the menu promising to provide good food and service, and with his team, he has achieved that. Besides, I am sure that if you really need it, they can drizzle your food with balsamic reduction.