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Menuplease: Maxwell’s – food for the hip and not-so-hip downtown

Back in the late 1970s there was a Maxwell’s Restaurant in Redding. Femme de Joie’s memory is a bit fuzzy on this, but she recalls it being on the corner of Market and Sacramento, where Vintage Wine Bar sits now. But she also seems to remember it on Market Street north of the mall, so perhaps it skated through town now and then. It was what current parlance calls “casual elegance” – that level between coffee shop and white tablecloths. They served a lovely Chicken Jerusalem. Versions of that restaurant came and went into the 1980s and perhaps into the 1990s if memory serves.

Maxwell’s Downtown Eatery today seems to share little with that Maxwell’s of old save the name and perhaps the address. From the outside it looks like a hipster’s dive bar, and even on the inside you might get that impression. It looks to be decorated entirely in black at first glimpse until your eyes adjust to the light, when you can see the brick wall behind the bar and the dark olive green wall with paintings on the other side of the room. Tables and chairs are the elevated tall bar variety, though there are a couple of regular height tables as well. One room to the side is dedicated to occasional live music performances. The crowd is largely young-ish, though M. de Joie overheard a dedicated beerhound behind her speak the words, “Lew Alcindor,” a name largely unknown to most 20-somethings. Music ranges from reggae to Robin Trower to 1970s staples.

There’s no chicken Jerusalem on this menu and no pretense. All the offerings pair well with beer and are listed with a minimum of poetic descriptions. “Our hamburgers are made from cows who were lovingly hand-fed the finest hay and lulled to sleep by a Mozart Quartet” doesn’t appear here.

Buffalo Bacon Blue Pizza –  “buffalo sauce,” bacon, tomato, blue cheese $15.99

This is exactly the kind of pizza M. de Joie would want if she planned to down a few brews to go with. She ordered it sans chicken – chicken on pizza is a travesty – and while it was not the most incredible blow-your-skirt-up pizza she has ever eaten in her life, it had a lot going for it. A thin, airy crust supported a not-spicy “creamy buffalo sauce” with crisp, salty bacon and fresh tomatoes; there was a definite paucity of blue cheese, though. This was enough for one greedy diner or two restrained polite people.

Spicy Jalapeno Burger with onion rings, $9.99

A fat, generous burger was tasty enough, but what really set this apart was the breaded and deep-fried Jalapenos. M. de Joie has seen both raw and pickled Jalapenos on burgers and loves those, but these were quite delightful and addictive. A bonus too was the hamburger bun: a Kaiser-type roll did not fall apart or get greasy and soggy.

A word about the onion rings: wonderful large rings with a thin, delicate shatteringly-crisp batter – definitely the best-cooked onion rings M. de Joie has ever had in Redding, but the batter badly needed some salt.

Trout Slayer Chili, $3.50

On the bean/no bean chili discussion, Femme de Joie is Switzerland. She doesn’t care. However, she is less forgiving on the tomato issue: they do not belong in chili. Now having said that, she found the Trout Slayer Chili really wonderful, meaty and well-seasoned, not so spicy that a chiliphobe would reject it; even the bits of tomato were not distracting. The name can’t help but make her think that there’s fish in it, though. (There isn’t.)

Maxwell’s Club with salad, $8.99

Expecting a pile of shredded iceberg lettuce alongside the club sandwich, it was a pleasure to instead get an actual composed salad with Romaine, cheese, olives, pepperoncini, and tomatoes: the extra mile gone. The club was one layer instead of the usual triple-decker and stuffed with lots of ham, turkey, cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. However, the bacon was completely uncooked. It had apparently been placed on a heat source because it was warm, but all that did was bring the fat to the surface. Floppy and flabby bacon may have its fans, but M. de Joie is not one of them. After the care taken with the salad, it seemed sloppy or uncaring: it isn’t as though a cook wouldn’t notice that.

Overall, Femme de Joie liked Maxwell’s. Service was friendly and efficient and the food was better than average pub-type food. While she’s a bit older than its target audience, M. de Joie felt perfectly comfortable and wouldn’t hesitate to go back. It’s a local downtown enterprise providing a badly-needed venue for live music and the food, even with a couple of issues, is well-prepared and a good value. Try it out.

Maxwell’s Downtown Eatery, 1344 Market Street, Redding, CA 96001. 530-247-7200. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM; Saturday 12:00 PM to 11:30 PM; Sunday 12:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Occasional live music. Beer and wine. Street parking, Cards, cash. Website here.

Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.

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