Short Order: Red Hook Grill

Bailey Trask
Jambalaya with black beans and rice

After decades of running a catering business, Kathy and Shawn Barklow opened Red Hook Grill on Goodale Boulevard in 2013, in part to reminisce about the couple's two years living in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1980s. The restaurant features their take on the region's cuisine, a melting pot of West African, European and American influences, which naturally provide Red Hook's menu with many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

Far from the beaches that inspired it, Red Hook is boxy and bare-boned, relying on Bob Marley tunes and large photos of St. Thomas beaches to provide ambiance. The décor is more likely to deliver its guests to a tropics-themed airport hotel bar than the Caribbean. The menu offers safe selections for a variety of palates. Potato skins join a tuna salad-like smoked whitefish spread and jerk-seasoned fried plantains as appetizers. The rest of the menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, entrées and stews is mainly pescatarian or vegetarian, something ?the servers are proud to promote. Service at Red Hook is friendly but inconsistent and sometimes slow, perhaps mimicking the leisurely pace found in the Caribbean.

There are a few constants at Red Hook. First: Portions are generous. Nearly every entrée on this moderately priced menu ($8 to $15) could feed two. Another constant does not bode so well. The soups and stews are underseasoned and, in one visit, served at scalding temperatures. As evidenced by the nearly empty salt shakers on most tables, it seems that a lack of seasoning is not a one-time offense.

While the black beans and rice with shrimp ($13.75) is bland, there's more flavor in the jambalaya ($14.75), where hearty portions of meat, sausage and shrimp provide depth to the stew-like entrée. The traditional trifecta of celery, peppers and onions join whole tomatoes that are too large to eat in a single bite.

One of Red Hook's best dishes is the Caribbean bean soup ($4.75). Vegan and full of umami, the humble broth comprises tomatoes, black and red beans, cilantro and lime juice. And it's easy to see why the crab-stuffed tilapia ($14.75) is one of the restaurant's best-sellers. Fresh crab meat complements perfectly seasoned and flaky tilapia in this expertly assembled dish.

For those looking to relive memories of past vacations or to find hearty dishes at reasonable prices, Red Hook has plenty to offer with some careful navigation of the menu (and a little hot sauce).

Red Hook Grill

1223 Goodale Blvd., Grandview, 614-223-1288,