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Regional Grill’s heart is rooted in Southern cooking 

Tony Strowder’s Conway eatery serves fare from all four corners of the country but leans toward Cajun


3334 Curry Ford Road | 407-898-0085 | | $$

Sitting at a table inside the Regional Grill & Bayou, we thought a more fitting name for the restaurant – given the snappy blast of ice cold air coming from the vents above and the wall-mounted air conditioner behind us – should be Regional Grill & Tundra. After handing us our menus, the less-than-enthused server asked if we needed anything. “A warm blanket,” was our half-joking reply. Moments later, another server, noting us shivering, informed us of an all-too-clear fact: “That’s the coldest table in the restaurant.” Evidently, the confluence of breezes had already lent the table a frigid notoriety, so server No. 2, a more seasoned, experienced and jovial sort, offered to escort us to the balmier side of the restaurant, where warmer climes prevailed. Once installed in the new seating-and-server arrangement, we took note of the unremarkable decor, then scrutinized the menu, which took quite a while.

The menu categorizes entrees (more than 40 of them) into “North,” “East,” “South” and “West” regions. That number could surely be pared down, and, really, most of the dishes listed under the “East” region ought to be eliminated. The menu leans toward Cajun cooking anyway, which is where chef Tony Strowder’s strengths lie. The CIA graduate honed his craft under the tutelage of noted NOLA chef Paul Prudhomme, though I’m not sure what chef Paul would say about chef Tony’s take on jambalaya ($14.95). The meats (andouille, chicken, crawfish, Tasso ham) came served over a choice of orzo or dirty rice, resulting in a dish resembling pilaf more than jambalaya. Strowder, good-natured, sociable and chatty, concedes that it’s his “twist” on traditional jambalaya, and I’ll admit that there are some fine flavors flowing through this dish. “I grind the spices for my seasonings and marinades,” he beamed at me, and there’s no denying his penchant for zing.

The lobster roll ($14.95), an item from the “North,” was hardly the Beantown rendition we were expecting. For one, no mayo. Second, the meat is sautéed in a cucumber lobster broth with tarragon, then stuffed inside a baguette. It’s a great sandwich, yes, but it was definitely a Southern twist on a Northern classic. From the “West,” we chose the trio of Montana flanks of beef ($15.95) – enormous cuts, wonderfully tender and heavily seasoned (but in a good way). We couldn’t get enough of the side of corn succotash, but the large heap of “bayou strings” (fried onions) was a slight overkill. If you’re hankering for something fried, you’ll appreciate the crispy, not soggy, panko-fried green tomatoes ($4.50), particularly all you Southern folk.

After just one bite of the banana pudding ($4.95), my dining comrade remarked, “You can tell they made that sumbitch right here,” and indeed, it was hand-fashioned in the kitchen with Lorna Doone cookies and vanilla-bean cream. The twist in the “twisted apple pie” ($5.95), it seems, was that it wasn’t very sweet. Not that I minded, but it was surprising to get more salty butter than sugar on the first bite. The cheddar-mascarpone cheese topping made an intriguing stand-in for ice cream, and “intriguing” might be the best way to describe this humble eatery with grand aspirations.

The Conway neighborhood continues to mature with its restaurant offerings, and with Regional Grill, chef Tony gives credence to the culinary revival.

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