Well, it was what it was, and there's nothing wrong with that. The food was mediocre, but it was inexpensive and there was a quiet gentility to the place. But back to The Gaf. My friend went on a weeknight and said, "It looks nice inside, but the crowd was still the cane-and-walker contingent. I only saw two people under 50."
I had to see for myself, so last week I made my first foray to The Gaf, taking along my friend Patrick, who recently moved to Waldo. Stepping through the front door, I was stunned by the beautiful face-lift that the new owners, James O'Brien and his brother-in-law, Ray Dunlea (a native of Ireland), had given the place. The ugly green carpet has been replaced by shiny hardwood floors, the walls are now buttercup-yellow, and there's a stone fireplace in the dining room.
I hardly recognized the stylish interior, but the clientele wasn't much different from my last visit. Patrick and I were the youngest diners in the room by at least 20 years. The septuagenarians at the next table were adorable but had evidently neglected to turn up their hearing aids they practically yelled at each other through the entire meal.
The food is vastly improved, thanks to the skill and imagination of 6-foot-6-inch-tall chef Jason Hill, who has wisely kept Romanelli's signature fried catfish on the menu but added dishes such as Irish beef stew, roasted free-range chicken and tortellini al carbonara.
I loved my dinner a hearty bowl of penne and sliced, balsamic-glazed chicken tossed with spinach, parmagiano-reggiano and pine nuts. Patrick noted that the dish called osso buco on the menu was actually a beautiful, fork-tender, British-pub-style lamb shank. "It's terrific," he said, "but it's not osso buco."
Another big change: Dinners are no longer wheeled out on plastic carts. "We had cart races with them during the renovation," says Ray's wife, Molly Dunlea.