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Mitchell's Grill

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Location: 4632 Centre Ave., North Oakland. 412-681-8450.
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m.;
Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Prices: Salads $6-7; cheesesteaks $5-11; other sandwiches $4-6
Fare: Cheesesteaks, burgers and sandwiches
Atmosphere: 1970 time capsule
Liquor: Full bar attached

In the beginning, there was G’s, a funky cheesesteak shop behind a bar called Mitchell’s. Taking its inspiration from South Street in Philly, G’s was overseen by an ample, gregarious chef who created sandwiches such as the Happy Pig but also offered high-falutin’ specials -- including grilled swordfish and T-bone steaks -- that required use of a knife and fork.

Eventually, G stepped aside and Charlie hung his name over the door, but it was a change in name only. This was fortunate for Jason and his college classmates, who were in the pound-foolish but penny-wise habit of making late-night runs for cheesesteak hoagies and onion rings.

By the time the sign was painted over once again, this time reading “Mitchell’s Grill,” Jason had not crossed the threshold in years. It was with some relief that he stepped in recently to find himself in a familiar time capsule. The walls are still papered with concert posters and album art from the 1960s and 70s, now browned and hazy from age and ambient grease; one pier in the middle of the room is covered in famous newspaper front pages (“Man Walks On Moon”). Matchstick blinds filter the light from the windows, just like in your first apartment, and the big, comfy armchairs are upholstered in ancient cracked pleather.

Having spent her salad days elsewhere (not to mention actually eating salad at the time), Angelique had no nostalgia coloring her impressions of Mitchell’s Grill. Instead, she wanted to see if the food matched Jason’s fond memories.

The verdict? A qualified yes. The menu has retained its essential character, if not its former flourishes: Gone are the colorfully named sandwiches, and the daily specials these days are simply better prices on regular menu items. No great loss, though: Cheesesteaks, hoagies and burgers have been and, it seems, always will be the menu’s mainstay, and this little kitchen on Melwood still puts out the best onion rings Jason’s ever had. With light, crisp breading and sweet, soft, substantial onions, they’re a uniquely excellent example of this ubiquitous sandwich accompaniment.

Mitchell’s fries were also very good. Hand-cut into shoestrings, the potatoes were dark brown and crisp outside and slightly chewy inside, ideal vehicles for salt or ketchup, but even unadorned, defying us to eat just one.

The menu begins with a list of salads -- most of them featuring chicken or steak, of course -- but we were really there for the sandwiches. Naturally, Jason ordered a cheesesteak. One bite confirmed his memories of savory shaved beef grilled with onions, sautéed peppers providing a sweet contrast and melted provolone tucked in the fold of a soft yet substantial bun. Angelique agreed the fillings were tasty, but thought that the cheese should have been better distributed throughout.

Angelique ordered a tuna melt and found our server happy to accommodate her special requests for tomato and provolone instead of American cheese. The tuna salad itself was dry, without an excess of mayonnaise to drown the fish flavor and soak through the bread. This made it perfect for sandwiching between slices of well-buttered and toasted rye. The cheese, a generous slice of gooey goodness atop the tuna, was the crowning glory on this excellent melt.

Jason’s entitled to his nostalgia, but upon returning to the restaurant now known as Mitchell’s, he and Angelique both discovered they did not need rose-colored palates to appreciate the food. Like G’s and Charlie’s before it, Mitchell’s Grill has mastered the sandwich and its traditional -- simple, greasy, tasty -- sides.

Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 2.5 stars

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