By now something of a neighborhood institution, Ditto’s Grill has operated in the Highlands for 17 years. You’re likely to find families with children, pub dwellers and any number of other demographics stretched across the spacious dining room with oversized wraparound booths and a casual, convivial atmosphere. Large-screen televisions dangle from high black-painted ceilings, but don’t distract. Neither does the open kitchen or elevated bar. And colorful three-dimensional art dotting the walls adds a touch of whimsy.
Of course, a restaurant that makes grandma as comfortable as the guys from the softball league must offer an extensive menu. Ditto’s delivers with a combination of standard bar-and-grill offerings and a number of more adventurous dishes. The concept was designed by chef/partners Dominic Serratore and Frank Yang, who strive to combine casual food with a friendly environment — and also pay tribute to their classic French culinary training.
Ditto’s plays it safe with entrées such as steaks, ribs and pasta and jazzes things up a bit with specialty pizzas and Asian-inspired signatures such as its “free-form burrito.” In addition, each month the chefs design a specialty menu focusing on seasonal ingredients and their own innovations. (Look for applejack Chicken and Asian salad with peanut sauce this fall.)
The lunch and dinner menus don’t change, but half-portions are available on many items. The crabmeat quesadilla appetizer ($7) piqued my interest. Two warm tortillas concealed a filling of toasted almond slices, crabmeat, provolone and apricot. I was pleasantly surprised with how in-sync the ingredients were. The quesadilla was creamy and sweet with subtle touches of crab and nuttiness. The apricots added a chewy texture and pulled together all of the sweet nuances. The quartered quesadilla came with a scoop of sour cream, lettuce and a salsa garnish. There was no need for the extras; I was satisfied with the delicious quesadilla au naturel.
The oven-baked turkey sandwich ($5.79) was a straightforward twist on a Thanksgiving classic — and a wise choice. Slices of white turkey meat covered with melted Monterey Jack formed a mound on a white bun. A cup of tart cranberry sauce, cup of mayo, pickle, thin white onion, tomato and lettuce accompanied the sandwich. Since it didn’t come with any side (to my disappointment), I ordered a half-portion house salad ($3.79), which definitely went beyond the standard. It tossed together almonds, avocado, hard-boiled egg and smoked Gouda with mixed greens. I also became a fan of Ditto’s specialty pizzas, especially the Holiday Spinach version ($8.29). A light layer of Alfredo cream sauce covered the thin crust, which displayed spinach, diced tomato, julienned slices of roasted chicken, garlic, basil and mozzarella. It reminded me of a traditional spinach dip appetizer turned into a pizza and enhanced with chicken for a swirl of creamy, well-textured flavor.
Unfortunately, the spicy chicken and garlic pasta ($8.49) didn’t impress me as much. The broth-based garlic sauce blended together lemon, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic, but I thought it tasted bland as a coating over bowtie pasta. However, the crispy piece of panko-crusted chicken served atop the dish compensated somewhat for its lackluster plate partner. Parmesan cheese, green onion, broccoli and diced tomato garnished the dish.
Ditto’s prepares many Asian-inflected offerings, and I opted for the citrus Atlantic cod ($11), per my server’s recommendation. An ample portion of pan-seared whitefish was perched, so to speak, atop “smashed” potatoes. A delightful pico de gallo-like mixture of fresh tomatoes coated with basil and lemon dressed the fish and the citrus sauce formed a pool beneath the potatoes. Individually, I enjoyed each element. All together the components didn’t work. The overly whipped potatoes distracted me from the delicate mild-tasting fish. And while the sauce underneath offered sweet, jammy, orange notes that complemented the main ingredient, I thought the tomato dressing on top was off target with the rest of the dish.
The desserts, prepared in-house, left a great last impression. The chocolate mousse cake ($4.50) was outstanding. This high slice of chocolate bliss came in rotating layers of chocolate cake and creamy milk chocolate mousse, with a light strawberry sauce drizzle. The best words to describe the cake were rich, rich and richer. A slice of peach Melba pie (also $4.50) shouldn’t be missed either. Arriving bubbling hot, this sweet treat featured a crisped golden crust that glistened and a filling of tart pureed raspberries and sweet canned peaches. The pie was a standout.