Simp McGhee’s

27 Jul 2011
Expensive ($26 and up)
Outside Madison County
4 out of 5

Melanie’s Take

Shane and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by having dinner at a place in Decatur that I had heard good things about for a while. Simp McGhee’s is one of the many storefronts in Historic Decatur but is one of the only ones open at night. When we arrived around 6 pm, the place was quickly filling up. By the time we left, it was to capacity. Apparently, the locals love this place, and after our experience, I can’t disagree. When you enter Simp McGhee’s, you notice a distinct smell of an older building and possibly a few cigars thrown in. Its tavern decor makes it an inviting place for men, but it stops short of being an in-your-face boys’ club. After perusing the menu and listening to suggestions from our helpful waitress, I chose the popular Ponchartrain, described as fresh fish topped with bay shrimp, jumbo lump crab, mushrooms, and green onions in a chardonnay butter sauce. It was served with a salad and your choice of sides from which I chose the sweet potato fries. As we waited for our entrees, the delicious salad came. The star of the salad was by far the house dressing. It was tangy and smooth with chunks of feta cheese mixed in. If they had bottles for sale, I would’ve left with one or two.

When our entrees arrived, they looked delicious. Mine was particularly tantalizing with all of the toppings piled up on my broiled fish. Although the dish looked like it would be full of flavor, it missed the mark of flavor intensity that I expected from a cajun dish. The white bed of rice was particularly bland, adding nothing to the dish. My sweet potato fries were the freezer variety, but were good enough. Overall, I wouldn’t say that my dish was bad, but its presentation exceeded its taste. My favorite part of the meal, other than the house dressing, was the dessert. I’ll leave that to Shane. After all, he was born in Kentucky.

Shane’s Take

Because I refuse to eat anything like my Melanie’s good food in a restaurant (see footnote), I chose the char-roasted duck breast, which the menu says is “served with braised spinach & apples & finished with apple sesame glaze” and cooked medium rare. It took about two bites to see that I’d ordered the better dish. The duck was tender, dead-on medium rare, and had a great flavor. It was impressively prepared. After enduring a recent spat of overcooked meats at restaurants (chains, mind you), I was glad to enjoy meat that truly was medium rare. Plus, the apple sesame glaze, which tasted like a sweet and tangy doctored soy sauce, tasted awesome. Between the sauce, the rare duck, and the accompanying greens and fruits (yes, fruit), I was feeling lucky. I didn’t hesitate to sop up the remainders, and I gave Melanie at least one evil eye as she tried to get some. Although the duck was the best part of the meal, I shouldn’t forget the derby pie. Derby pie, for those who don’t know, is a curious dessert. Think “slightly moist chocolate chip blondie in a pie shell”. Honestly, it strikes me as a pauper’s dessert, but so what if it’s good? The derby pie we ate at Simp Mcghee’s was straight derby pie with a dollop of ice cream. It tasted sweet and chocolatey and ice creamy, but at almost $8 it cost too much. I wouldn’t order it again. I was skeptical about Simp’s. I’d heard that it wasn’t that great, and my anti-Decatur bias was kicking in, tempting me to think Decatur couldn’t possibly pump out a good dining experience. Fortunately, I was wrong. My food was great, the atmosphere was all sorts of manly awesome, and the service was excellent. I recommend Simp Mcghee’s and look forward to returning for another night of good River City eats. Final thoughts:

  • This may be the manliest place I’ve ever eaten. No doubt, Churchill would approve.
  • I was amused by the presence of a “Chicken Speegle”. Anybody who’s spent time in Decatur or Morgan County knows it could’ve been named after half the population.
  • Some answers to common fine dining questions:
    • “What should I wear?” Whatever you want. The waiters wear shorts and polos, so don’t worry about it.
    • “Did you get enough to eat?” Absolutely. This is Alabama fine dining, not suburban Virginia food flirting.
    • “How much can I get out for?” If you don’t order alcohol, plan on $60 or $70.
  • For those unfamiliar with Decatur, Simp Mcghee’s is on the vintage but well-maintained Bank Street, a cool old downtown street full of interesting shops. If you like downtown Huntsville, you’ll like Bank Street.

Note: Speaking of Melanie’s food, I hereby submit two things she makes that no restaurant can beat: fettucine alfredo (strange, I know—a burger is more Italian than either of us is) and banana pudding. I’ll allow the possibility that Emeril Lagasse might be able to match her banana pudding—I don’t know since I’ve not tried it—but he can’t beat it.

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