With a name like Einstein’s, I didn’t expect ordinary

After viewing the Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the High Museum one Sunday, my friend and I sought a nearby, moderately priced spot to grab an early dinner and ended up at the long-time Midtown staple, Einstein’s. While the inside furnishings looked comfy and trendy, we opted for sitting outside on the patio because the air conditioning inside felt uncomfortably cold against the 90+ degree day.

Growing up, I had a frog pond in my backyard. That is what the outside seating area of Einstein’s smelled like. Hoping the funky smell would dwindle and that I’d get used to the blaring pop selections coming from a speaker above our heads, I excitedly dove into the inventive menu. Being food- and restaurant-obsessed, I’d poured over the mouth-watering items on the online menu a few times in the past, but had not yet experienced (according to the Web site) Einstein’s “innovative, competitively-priced cuisine in a warm, accommodating environment” or its “award-winning patio.”

The Einstein’s menu is truly genius, living up to the establishment’s moniker. The restaurant features unexpected twists on traditional items like club sandwiches and quesadillas, adding cheeky ingredients such as raspberry sauce and duck, respectively. While painstakingly deliberating over the menu (everything looked divine), I threw in an order for lemonade and waited in anticipation to see how Einstein’s would take my simple beverage to the next level.

Finally I settled on the skirt steak sandwich topped with a fried egg, arugula, enoki mushrooms and aioli, served on a foccacia bun. “With fries?” the waiter assumed. When I learned that I could pick any side from the list of 10 creative options, my excitement topped the charts. I picked the most exotic of course, jicama watermelon slaw. Other options included spicy cucumber salad, sweet potato fries, green beans with caramelized onions and a number of more traditional veggies and starches like black beans & rice and garlic mashed potatoes.

No longer distracted by the enticing menu, the pond smell once again entered the scene as Kelly Clarkson very loudly belted out “Since You’ve Been Gone.” I turned to my lemonade for solace, but was disappointed when it tasted a little bit worse than a generic, grocery store powdered drink mix. I tried to keep my spirits up, but I was losing the battle as I strained to hear my friend talk over Miss Clarkson.

Upon request, the waiter cheerfully turned the speakers down as he brought the appetizer my friend ordered – artichoke-parmesan dip. Although there was a grossly disproportionate amount of chips compared to the tiny bowl of dip, the chips were a vivid blue and covered in what looked like chili powder, so I hoped they could hold their own in flavor once the dip was devoured. Unfortunately they did not, and the dip – while tasty and exactly what you’d expect – disappeared even sooner than I thought it would due to several whole chunks of artichoke taking up room in the small dish. Oh well, on to the entrees…

My friend delighted in her Einstein Grille, essentially a turkey club sandwich served on french toast made with sourdough bread. Too full to eat the second half of the huge sandwich, she resorted to dipping the bread in the raspberry sauce served on the side and had a berry good time with it.

Meanwhile, my jicama watermelon slaw made me frown. Seeing jicama, browned apple slices and shredded cabbage on my plate, I went on an expedition to uncover said watermelon and only managed to find two pink flecks so small I could hardly taste them. Overall, the slaw mostly tasted like salt water, with no detectable dressing. My practical dining buddy took the waiter’s suggestion and got the french fries alongside her sandwich. While not exotic, they were pretty much perfect.

The skirt steak sandwich was much more appealing to the eye than my brown and green slaw, and was gigantic like my friend’s turkey sandwich. I cut it in half and went in for the kill. The tastes blended very well together – like a full-flavored steak and eggs breakfast in sandwich form. The steak and eggs were definitely the most powerful flavors coming through in each bite, followed closely by a spicy kick from the arugula and some rosemary in the foccacia bread (a welcome surprise). While I could not really pinpoint the exact flavors in the aioli, it definitely enhanced the overall essence of the sandwich by adding a salty bite. As for the mushrooms, I’m not sure I tasted them at all, but they sure make the sandwich sound fancy on the menu.

Overall I was rather pleased with the skirt steak sandwich, though I did have one major reservation. By the time I got to the last few bites, I was so sick of fighting to bite the steak and picking it out of my teeth that I just took the steak out and ate the egg and bread. In order to improve the texture and user-friendliness of the sandwich, I’d suggest that Einstein’s either uses a less fatty cut of steak (I know, I know, that would cost more) or pre-cut the steak before putting it onto the sandwich.

When it came time for that time-honored question, “to dessert or not to dessert,” I opted for not. The dessert menu looked delectable but mostly ordinary, including (among others) treats like key lime pie, cheesecake, a fudge sundae and chocolate mousse cake. The one stand-out item to me was the Georgia peach pound cake with bourbon-caramel sauce. However, having given my gigantic sandwich a full chance to impress me (slash having no self control) I had finished almost all of it except for those last few pesky bits of chewy steak. And besides that, my hands were covered with aioli and egg goo (it wasn’t a neat sandwich), and I’d had enough of the swamp stench.

Would I return to Einstein’s? Well, let’s see…

– Yellow powdered mix drink…$1.95 (free refills if you’re that thirsty)
– Thin, tasteless blue tortilla chips with a few scrumptious (yet typical) bites of artichoke dip…$8.00 ($4.00 for me because I split it)
– A few nibbles of seawater-salty slaw and a hunka, hunka tasty steak and eggs between sinfully delicious rosemary bread…$11.00
– Frog-pond fragrance…priceless!

Weighing in at about $22 a piece when all was said and done, Einstein’s is by no means expensive by Midtown dining standards. However, next time I’m in the area and feigning for no-nonsense food with a splash of creativity, I’ll most likely head over to The Vortex on Peachtree and 7th where I’ve never had a bad meal.

Being a Rachael Ray in training, I couldn’t help but notice Einstein’s 5 & 10 menu though. On Monday through Friday from 3-6pm or after 10pm, the restaurant offers some selections from its menu for $5.00 and others for $10.00. If I’m ever in the area and in need of a cheap meal during those times, I may venture back to Einstein’s to try once again to uncover the genius, but I wouldn’t pay more than $5.00. I will, however, be sure to bring a heavy sweater and sit inside. With the Trump Tower going up, there’s not much to see from the patio right now anyway except for a lot of construction.

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