I'm not from the South, but I did grow up in southwestern Ohio close enough to Kentucky to have a bit of a southern accent, or so I was told by my college roommates when I came "way up north" to Kent State University many moons ago. Being the child of parents named Pickett, too, goes a long way to establishing my southern creds. So when I saw a new Liberty Township restaurant - Monteen's Southern Cuisine - I started hankering for some down-home cookin'.
And then one evening, we gathered up our eating-out buddies, Jerry and Barb from Niles, and paid a visit. I'll tell you two things up front: first, "home" here is quite a bit farther south than the place I remember; and two, we definitely plan on a return trip to try some of the things we simply couldn't get in the first time, like the secret-recipe dry rubbed, slow-smoked barbeque chicken or and ribs. A half chicken, with two sides and a choice of bread, is $13.99, and a half rack of ribs is $14.99.
Monteen's is in a building we've been to before - if we remember correctly, it once housed Armando's, a great Italian restaurant. The interior hasn't changed a lot as far as layout and colors go, but the Italian decorations on the walls are gone. Just inside the entrance is a dessert/checkout counter; the dining room is on the right. At the left is Club Amauri, which features a bar and dance floor and occasional live bands reminiscent of the speakeasies I've seen in old movies (food from Monteen's menu is available here as well).
Not wanting to push the fill-up envelope too early, we decided to share a single appetizer of six fried green tomatoes with horseradish sauce for dipping ($5.99). Breaded in cornmeal, the tomatoes were delicious, and we all loved the horseradish sauce. Next time, though, we may go for the sampler platter ($13.99) with two smoked beef slices, two smoked ribs and a chicken thigh, which would be plenty for the four of us when we're planning to add a meal.
The list of sandwiches is lengthy and appealing enough to make us stop and think; I'm a huge fan of fried balogna, for instance, and this one, with lettuce, tomato and raw onion, is only $3.99 and looked very tempting. Barbecue pulled pork always sounds good as well, and on a Kaiser bun for $7.99 (sandwiches here come with hand cut French fries and coleslaw), this one was hard to pass up.
But this was dinner, after all, so we agreed we'd each choose a different entree so we could sample more things. Jerry didn't take long making his decision - braised oxtails with sides of red beans and rice and candied yams for $15.99. My husband Jack chose grilled salmon with fried okra and macaroni and cheese for $14.99 (he could have had it blackened, but that's not his style). Barb loves grits, so it didn't take her long to settle on the shrimp and grips with fried okra and the chef's choice of greens for $14.99.
Since I was looking for something that reminded me of my childhood with a cook-everything-from-scratch mother, I seriously considered grilled liver and onions, one of the house specials. But that was before I spotted chicken livers; that's a dish my mother cooked often. I carried on that tradition with my own family, but then pizza and take-out took over and chicken livers became quite hard to find (still are). I could get them fried or sauteed (I chose the former) for $10.99, and my choices for sides were baked beans and sauteed squash - other options are dirty rice, succotash and cornbread dressing.
One thing I will emphasize here is that if you're not a fan of the somewhat gritty cornmeal, stay away from anything here that's fried; it seems to be the breading of choice on all dishes from those green tomatoes to my chicken livers to Jack's salmon. I like it, but in much smaller doses; had I known ahead of time, I'd have ordered my livers sauteed instead.
Barb was delighted with the fried okra in particular (yes, same breading), commenting that she'd return here just to have that again. It's different from most because the entire pod is cooked here. She also noted that the greens had a different and interesting flavor, perhaps some kind of meat broth.
Jerry was happy with his oxtails as well - there were three good-sized ones -- and the bowl of red beans and rice was so large he just couldn't finish it all. The candied yams were delicious, with a slightly different flavor we couldn't put our finger on, so we asked the owner and learned that it's nutmeg (that's her on the left, in a photo I "borrowed" from Monteen's website).
Barb's grits had lots of cheese and bacon bits and was very good, but here, too, it was just too much to finish. She had no such problem with the six shrimp, though, polishing off each and every one.
Except for the cornmeal breading, my chicken livers were wonderful too, although I'd have preferred a few more grilled onions. As an unusual touch, a small container of brown gravy was brought for dipping. The grilled squash and baked beans - welcome departures from all the cornmeal - were delicious too; I loved the flavor in the beans, and I made a note that if they're any indication, I'd probably love the barbecue here. Meanwhile, Jack enjoyed his salmon and the mac and cheese even more; since he couldn't polish off the large bowl, I was happy to help and agree it's good.
We all agreed this is a place we'd return, perhaps to try a few of the brunch items available on Sundays. The French toast special ($8.99) sounded especially good with three pieces of toast, three eggs and three pieces of bacon or sausage.
If you go:
Monteen's Southern Cuisine
3807 Belmont Ave.
Youngstown, Ohio 44505
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Carryout available.