Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lunch and more at the Charitone Market Grille

The Hotel Charitone returns fully to life after its $5 million-plus restoration on Thursday when Charitone Market Grille opens to the public just in time for lunch. If you're uptown, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the south entrance at 10:30 a.m. and the restaurant will open at 11 a.m.

Beginning Thursday, hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, when brunch will be served.

A considerable number of friends of the Charitone project have been lucky enough last week and on Monday and Tuesday of this week to enjoy preview meals --- we got to enjoy some terrific food while the staff (which numbers 62) trained, making sure everyone was on the same page when it came to preparing, plating and serving everything on the extensive lunch and dinner menus.

I picked an 11:20 a.m. lunch seating Tuesday, so Bill and Carol Marner, Marilyn Johnson and I headed for the Charitone after Tuesday morning's board meeting at the museum.

The four of us were thrilled --- really --- by the menu selections, the food, the friendly staff and the decor --- and so was everyone else I've talked to. It's an astonishing experience to enjoy a meal inside a beautifully restored building that just two years ago was a deteriorating hollowed-out hulk with boarded up windows and a roof so faulty that water cascaded from fourth floor to basement every time it rained.


Guests enter the Grille through the main building entrance (top and below; window-washing in progress), in use since 1923 when the Charitone opened, and find themselves in an open lobby area (top) with bar to the left and restaurant to the right --- food is served in both areas. The elevator (a white door) is straight ahead, as is the original hotel staircase.

Residents of the 12 apartments on upper floors for the most part use the hotel's new north entrance, which opens into a small lobby, also with elevator access. That entrance also will be used by restaurant guests who have difficulties with stairs.

The bar occupies the former Charitone lobby to the west of the entrance and has the best views through big arched windows out across the square. The maroon and gold tile floor in the bar is the original lobby floor, now carefully restored.

I was really pleased to find my friend Evelyn at the desk waiting to seat us. She was the first of several friendly and attentive staff members we visited with during lunch.

The restaurant runs all along the south side of the Charitone building, behind big windows looking out onto Braden Avenue. Yes, the restored tile floor is original to the restaurant, but because the area has been reconfigured, extends north into the kitchen area rather than running the full length of the building. And, yes, the concrete floor at the east end of the restaurant, stained dark and highly polished, is supposed to be that way. This is an historic building meticulously restored, remember, so when possible the emphasis is on original details.

Our server was Brandon --- and since this is a small town there were things we wanted to know. In this case, Carol handled the interrogation. He is from Des Moines, a graduate of Ankeny High School, has lived in Chariton six months and likes it here.

Bill and I questioned another server after I spotted the mirror-like finish on his shoes. I figured military; Bill thought patent leather. He kindly came over to be questioned, and I was right --- just out of the Marines after four years, spit-shined. I neglected to get his name, but you'll recognize him if you look top (blond hair) and bottom (shoes that practically glitter).

We each selected an entree off the really extensive menu and shared two appetizers --- the food was complimentary since this was a training exercise; but we were expected to tip.

Carol chose Hawaiian Chicken; Marilyn, a Caesar Salad; Bill, macaroni and cheese; and I picked potato-encrusted cod. The entrees came with sides --- sweet potato chips for Bill and Carol; oven-roasted vegetables for me. We shared chicken quesadillas and a tasty avacado dip with homemade crisps.

Bill is a fan of mac and cheese and said the reasonably-priced Charitone version far outshone the result of his priciest investment in this comfort food staple --- $23 for a single serving in another state.

I neglected to take a photo of my cod, but it was wonderful --- perfectly cooked, crispy on top and served with a light tomato sauce.

Everyone was really pleased with his or her meal, and leftovers were carefully boxed up to be carried away.

Had we been paying for it, our meal for four would have cost $55. I had the most expensive entree (as you might expect) of the four --- that wonderful fish (with a side) came in at $15. Grilled salmon also was on the menu.

Because the goal was to ensure that the kitchen staff had experience preparing all the entrees, the top beef and pork entrees were not available Tuesday, but in addition to salads and appetizers the available menu  items included a broad range of sandwiches and pasta dishes. Ubiquitous cheeseburgers also were available and I was shocked and appalled when friends at other tables, faced with such a great menu, ordered them --- there's just no accounting for taste.

When the restaurant opens on Thursday, wine and beer also will be available with meals --- or without, for that matter.

This is the Hy-Vee corporation's only free-standing Market Grille. It was a great meal in a great place prepared and served by a friendly and attentive staff. Who could ask for more?


Brenda said...

I look forward to my first meal at the Charitone Market Grille. Thanks for the review.

norm prince said...

Greatly surprised and totally blown away with what HyVee has to offer in your new venue. I was in Milan, IL last month and took my cousins to the new restaurant within their store, which had just opened the week prior. Nice looking, large, new staff, BUT the sit down menu offered only salads, sandwiches and burgers. When the food manager made her rounds of the table all of use voiced our displeasure. Some folks get the cream and some of us the curds.


Frank D. Myers said...


Hy-Vee is putting what it calls "Market Cafes" in its smaller stores and that sounds like what you experienced --- limited menu with wine and beer available, or you can carry in from the serving line. That's what we have at the newly remodeled and expanded Hy-Vee Store here. The "Market Grilles" usually are in just the biggest stores, but the Charitone is an exception (and the only free-standing Grille around) because this is the old home of Hy-Vee and the company as invested a great deal of money in the Charitone restoration.


Unknown said...

I an so excited. I will be driving in from Calif. on June 11 and leave on June 15. I have friends driving up from Branson, Mo. on the 14th. Would love to have dinner there. Is there a menu available yet? I'd love to get a copy. At 87 this will probably be my last visit to my home town. As I said, I'm so excited.