The dining area has been attractively reworked into a bistro, with lots of dark paint tones and black tablecloths. A small room in the back of the dining room is set back in an alcove with a big screen television that I imagine will be a good place for semiprivate dining or an office luncheon. The large front window allows in good light for somebody my age who needs help reading menus.
The interior transformation is pretty impressive. The new owners have erased just about any evidence of the previous incarnation. Gone is the steam table that served fried chicken and catfish alongside the familiar array of down-home vegetables. The counter where you paid your bill that revealed an open kitchen has been replaced by a full bar stocked with a nice, if unremarkable, selection of beers and spirits. It's certainly not a boutique whiskey bar, but if you'd like a Jack and Coke or a Bacardi and Coke or a Captain Morgan's and Coke, well, you get the picture. It's perfectly serviceable and might be a nice spot to stop by for an after-work cocktail.
About that menu, it is pretty eclectic, with pizzas, panini and other Italian classics alongside some other unusual items like "Caucasian Lamb, Beef or Chicken Tips." (I'll try to resist the joke that the caucasian lamb must come from the white sheep of the family, but I do have to wonder what chicken tips are. Perhaps they are the part of the chicken wing snipped off after you separate the drumette from radius/ulna. Whatever it is, I didn't order it.)
As Carrington reported, the the bistro is owned by brothers Adam and John Payz (also co-owners of New York Pizza on Elliston Place), who hail from Russia. So that may explain the Caucasus reference on the menu. Chef Lassad Mnif, meanwhile, is from France. He trained there and locally at Viking culinary school.
Looking over the menu, some items are intriguingly marked with asterisks. After searching for some sort of key to the three-asterisk and four-asterisk designations (gluten-free? spicy? available as a vegetarian dish?), I finally asked my server what they meant. He replied, "I don't know. I think it means they're really good." He then helpfully volunteered to go in the kitchen and find out. When he returned, he was beaming and said. "Yep, they're the really good stuff."
My friend and I visited during lunch, so we decided to try out two of the asterisked panini, the steak-and-cheese panini and the "Famous Italian Beef." They ended up being fairly similar, steak-and-cheese sandwiches served with a side of Wavy Lays chips, sprinkled with parsley to class up the plate a little bit. My sandwich was certainly a delightful mess to eat, overflowing with provolone and mozzarella, sweet peppers, onions and mushrooms, but it could have stood a little more seasoning. Nothing I couldn't fix with a little salt and pepper.
My dining companion's Italian beef was a little less worthy of its fame, as it resembled a Steak-Ums sandwich with some salty dipping sauce. Actually, my sandwich in his dip turned out to be a pretty good combination, maybe at least two asterisks. I might order it that way on my return.
The restaurant is still getting its legs underneath it, but there is potential for it to become a decent neighborhood bistro. Even though the Gulch and 12 South are booming restaurant-wise, there's always room for a spot that has its own parking lot and a comfortable atmosphere. One pro user tip though, I parked on the side of the building right under where they have vented the kitchen hood out through the wall. Since it was a warm day, I cracked the windows of my car, but then immediately noticed that my car was starting to smell like a french fry. Don't be dumb like I was. There are plenty of other spots to park.
If you get the chance to taste through more of the menu than I did or check out the evening vibe, please share your impressions here in the comments.