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Review: Shula's 347 Grill

A culinary field goal
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 18, 2009

There are ego trips and there are ego trips. Many of them can entertain us as we watch and shake our heads bemused, but how many can bribe us into approval with a good meal?

SHULA'S 347 GRILL | 401.709.0347 | 21 Atwells Ave., Providence | | open for breakfast Mon-Fri,6:30-10 am, Sat + Sun, 7-10:30 am; lunch + dinner Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-10:30 pm; Fri + Sat, 11:30 am-11 pm; Sun, 11:30 am-10pm | major credit cards | full bar | sidewalk-level accessible 

NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula is understandably proud of his 347 career wins. He's so proud that he wants to share that fact with diners at his nationwide chain of seven steakhouses, Shula's 347 Grill. (That's in addition to nearly two dozen restaurants that bear his name but forego his résumé.)

The one in the Providence Hilton is quite a trip. At the entrance is a quote by him — engraved into a polished steel floor plate, lest you not notice — declaring: "Success is not forever, and failure isn't fatal." You kinda want to clutch him reassuringly around the shoulders and tell him to buck up. Since Shula wasn't there on our visit, we settled for just encouraging him with some business.

Black-and-white photographs of the gray-haired eminence abound, most with political and entertainment notables in palzy proximity. There are gold-plated football trophies, a team-signed "Undefeated" jersey, hi-def flat-panel screens tuned to reverently hushed ESPN channels, and faux pigskin wallcovering studded decoratively with manly metal tacks. Easy listening and unobtrusive jazz float from the speakers. The bar area, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, is as bright as a color commentator's relentless grin.

We chose a cushy booth rather than one of the black-granite tables, flicked open our black napkins, picked up our single-sheet menus, and got to business.

The starters range through every level of appetite, from spinach and artichoke dip ($9) through crab cake ($15) to "oak roasted salmon" ($11) and blackened tenderloin tips ($14). Johnnie was satisfied with her usual Caesar salad, offered alongside the house salad on this list (both $7).

The fried ravioli ($9) appealed to me. The eight crisp, greaseless pillows were presented beneath sprinklings of scallion and shaved Romano and above a bed of fried whole-wheat cappellini, sort of minimalist breadsticks, as tasty as crackers. The ravioli were filled with three cheeses, mozzarella and ricotta predominating, and served with a marinara sauce for dipping. They were tasty, but my dining mate didn't like the sauce (stale herb or something). But I kept dipping away, appetite trumping fussiness.

There are a half-dozen salads, including a dinner version of the Caesar. Johnnie's smaller one was plentiful enough and tastier than many, with anchovies in the dressing although not available to drape on top.

The menu is small: eight sandwiches and the same number of entrées. I tend to appreciate that as an indication that the offerings are fresh. All of the non-steak main courses, instead of a select few, are under "Signature Entrées," a meaningless designation unless they're afraid diners might suspect them of ordering some from KFC. An actual signature item is the "Club Shula Sandwich" ($13), containing boss-specified ingredients: Cure 81 and maple-glazed turkey, apple wood-smoked bacon, plus Monterey Jack and cheddar. The beef here is all Black Angus, from burgers to French dip au jus to steaks, trademarked as "Shula Cut," as if he reinvented aged prime beef.

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