Boadie’s dishes up proud American fare.

Big Burger Plus: In Your Grill: A handful of stools directly overlook the fresh assembly line. Jane Morba

Boadie’s American Grill is just that: American. There is good red-meat eatin’ (Angus tri-tip and double-patty Bodacious Burgers) and fun-time excessiveness (chili cheese dogs and hand-scooped shakes). There’s great diversity on the big road map of a menu and hometown-friendly service. There’s even a stock of old-school all-red ketchup bottles that fell right out of the ‘50s. And it’s in a mall.

Fittingly, then, much like America, it’s tough to love everything about Boadie’s—inconsistency threatens to undo its great takes on traditional American fare much the way hypocrisy threatens to do the same with our fair America. Fortunately, though, both places allow for ample self-determination.

On first glance, Boadie’s appears to align on the not-so-hallowed side of American food culture—that of the commercial chain. A long open grill and ordering counter and a straightforward dining area set off by wooden chairs, booths and a metal ceiling give it a stylish-yet-cookie-cutter feel. On the contrary, however, it’s a one-of-a-kind spot, unlike its Del Monte Center neighbor, McDonald’s-controlled Chipotle.

On second glance, this place’s got the kind of stuff every self-respecting American loves, with a fresh, light twist, all within the top two inches of its menu. There’s three char-grilled sandwiches designed for personalization: certified Angus tri-tip steak ($7.95), skinless chicken breast ($6.95) or organic salmon ($7.95) prepared with one of four treatments—1) “Simple Grilled” (lettuce, tomato and red onion); 2) “BBQ” (housemade sauce, crispy onion strings and mayo); 3) “True Blue” (crumbled blue cheese, crispy onion strings and blue cheese sauce); or 4) “Club” (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and dill ranch sauce).

My first visit found the char-grilled tri-tip lightly seasoned, tender and tasty, my companion’s salmon club moist and lively with superb bacon and zingy dill. But another cohort’s juicy and flavorful bacon cheeseburger (one-third hand-formed Angus beef with applewood bacon and jack cheese) took the title. Respectable onion rings ($2.95/basket) and fries ($2.95) only helped.

My second visit worried me—the salmon, the onion rings, and most of the self-determination proffered by the customizable menu were gone. The amiable youngster at the counter told me it was the third menu change so far. Thankfully, the tri-tip options, burgers and much else remain—and there are still $9.25 pitchers of Gordon Biersch and Hefeweizen. I repeat, good pitchers for cheap at the mall.

I was still able to return to the booth with enough stuff to fill an SUV for under $40: sandwiches, soup, mashed potatoes, fries, a root beer float, a big salad and the pitcher. (Hint: good place to take the family pre-movie—kids 12 and under can get stuff like chicken tenders or grilled cheese with a drink and fries or apple sauce for $4.25.)

Between myself and the two headstrong American originals with whom I ate family-style, we achieved a surprising amount of consensus on what we had. Without further ado, then, the state of those plates:

First the pride of the place: cheddar cheese and bacon whip-in mashed potatoes ($2.25, also in roasted garlic or seasoned). Call your Congressman—they merit a half-day off work.

The soup-of-the-day French Onion came boasting delicious, well-spiced broth, but also an acre of onion. The Big House Salad (mixed greens, dry cranberries, candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and cranberry vinaigrette, $5.85) was sturdy but unspectacular.

The Star Chicken ($5.75, one of four specialty sandos, alongside meatball, turkey club and buffalo chicken) incorporated a few all-too under-used ingredients, including basil, which gave it an enchanting accent; the very good apple-smoked bacon; and vinaigrette, which brought the flavors together nicely. The mozzarella also blended well. Alas, the chicken itself was nothing to start a Revolutionary War over, arriving a touch dry, not unlike the British wit.

The Angus tri-tip steak sandwich, which I ordered “true blue,” brought some serious flavor. To a man, though, we each wanted more tri-tip goodness, and (blue cheese forefathers forgive me, for I honor you regularly) less cheesiness: As good as the sauce was, it kinda blew out the taste—the “simple grilled” tri-tip I had on a past visit was simply superior. By dipping the less-cheesy bites in the French Onion, however, I did achieve an adaptation early American pioneers could appreciate.

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Steeled by experience, I had faith in my free will to make a final visit great, but it netted similar patchwork satisfaction. While the Cali Burger ($6.25) hit the spot with avocado and swiss, it wasn’t on the level with the juicy burger from the first go-round. The steakhouse-carved tri-tip salad ($7.45) had a perfect amount of blue cheese dressing, superb tri-tip slices, crispy onion and bell pepper, but also a couple of slices that were almost all fat. Fortunately, the Oreo hand-scooped shake ($2.95) was worth fighting for—much like, I might add, the freedom to find your own way.

Boadie’s American Grill

660 Del Monte Center, Monterey

11am-8pm; until 9pm Fri/Sat

644-0114

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