What: 279 Bar & Grill (Formerly the Overpour)
Where: 279 South River St., Plains Township
Call: (570) 235-1037
Credit cards? Yes
Hours: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays, which are guest-chef nights; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday-Friday; noon to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays; kitchen open until 11 nightly.
Why we went: Have you been watching “Hell’s Kitchen?” Ever wondered what the stars would be like in real life, in their own kitchens? Well, so far, not one and not two but three of the current season’s contestants have cooked here — Michael Langdon, Ray Alongi and Barret Beyer, all of whom have helmed special tasting-menu nights within this former neighborhood watering hole. Granted, we wanted to taste the permanent chef’s cooking — apparently Jim Guasto is a friend of Chef Michael (our local contestant, gone from “HK” too soon), but still, you have to admit the reality-TV connection is intriguing. And most likely an area first.
Standouts: So, the stars of this menu just might be what’s not actually on it. In other words, listen to the specials and definitely consider them, especially if you see “fine food” on the signage and scratch your head at the burgers, sandwiches and such that dominate the permanent menu. This place looks like a bar, talks like a bar and walks like a bar, but when the specials arrive it suddenly stops feeling like a bar. Some nights, the fare is especially creative; others, it’s more traditional but done to perfection.
Cases in point: a tender as all-get-out, perfectly cooked bleu-cheese encrusted (or not … read on) filet mignon, a huge pork porterhouse stuffed with prosciutto and melted cheese and a quite lovely three-piece chicken Francaise. All three were rock stars. And so was the three-soup sampler we shared.
The pork porterhouse had all the qualities of a delectable porterhouse steak, except, well, it was pork — tender, flavorful pork, accented by fresh mushrooms in a snappy, thinnish sauce. The chicken Francaise was three equally tender, pounded-thin breasts in the requisite lemony cream sauce, which was as generous as it was flavorful. The difference between this Francaise and what we’re used to came in the frying, or lack thereof: We’d almost say these breasts weren’t fried at all, which is certainly a healthier way to do things, but if the flour, oil and pan were indeed involved, they came into play with a light touch. No complaints. None on the steak either, which was tweaked to please our diner not in love with bleu cheese. That’s the rule here: The chef will even come out to meet you — and meet you on your own terms.
All three dishes came with two of the same sides and one special match-up. We felt as if we were taking our own “Hell’s Kitchen”-style palate test, trying to discern what we were tasting in a few spoonfuls of our individual portions of something white and something green. Turns out we were wholly correct on one front — cauliflower puree, nearly perfect, except I’d have preferred it hotter — and partially correct on another — green-pea puree with what we thought tasted like a hint of horseradish. Upon consultation with