The current incarnation of The Maple Tree reminds me of one of my grandmothers. She was a dear woman who doted on her grandchildren, and I loved to go to her house for meals, but I always was careful what I ate -- wary not of food-safety issues but of the occasional grenade in an otherwise placid experience. Suffice it to say that what was on her table always represented a decidedly mixed bag.
There were a lot of things I really liked about the food at The Maple Tree -- the corned-beef hash, for starters. Part of a platter ($8.99) that The Maple Tree numbers among its specialties, it's touted as housemade, and I have no doubt it is. It's much more finely cut than most of the housemade hashes served around town but still carries enough fresh flavor and firm texture to make it a standout, especially intercut with perfectly overeasy eggs.
And the chicken noodle soup ($3 as an add-on sandwich side), which, again, was clearly the product of both labor and attention, the shredded chunks of chicken extremely plentiful, the noodles and vegetables in just the right proportions and with a little tang of salt.
And the steak dip ($9.99), with great flavor and texture, was a paragon of simplicity.
Other components, however, were not so successful. The potato salad chosen as a side with the beef dip (other choices are salt-and-pepper fries, maple baked beans or a fruit cup) was creamy and full of eggy goodness -- and much like something my grandmother would have made, because despite the fine flavor, the potatoes were not sufficiently cooked and were still hard.
That one indicated a problem with cooking duration, but two other things seemed to have been cooked at the wrong temperatures. Pancakes chosen as a side with the hash (other choices are hash browns or country potatoes) were beautifully browned, and with the plentiful butter and syrup that accompanied them they were very flavorful. One flaw: The grill or pan or whatever had been used was apparently too hot, because they weren't cooked inside.
Ditto for a maple fritter, also served with the hash (other choices are toast or fried bread). This one had a beautifully browned, nicely glazed exterior and good, pure flavor. But the inside was doughy, indicating that the grease was too hot.
The latter two issues could easily have been a product of the fact that The Maple Tree was very quiet on the afternoon of our visit, because an interruption in flow can lead to snags -- like an overheated griddle or fryer -- that the chef or cook doesn't notice right away, especially if a pancake comes off the grill browned and beautiful. But it doesn't explain the undercooked potatoes.
Still, like my grandmother's table, I liked The Maple Tree in spite of its flaws. Service was polite and efficient, our server well-spoken and patient. Portions were huge; the breakfast platter, in particular, was way more than most of us usually eat for breakfast or lunch, with a big mound of hash. The decor is pretty basic, although various accents around the room add interest. And as we were leaving, a number of regulars started coming in and we could feel the sense of community that a diner or coffee shop can engender.
But it would behoove the kitchen to pay more attention to temperatures and textures, because they can sabotage the best of flavors.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.