These days, it breaks our heart to see an empty dining room in any restaurant, but it’s particularly gut-wrenching when it’s a chef-driven neighborhood spot. Joseph Maher’s place has stood at the corner of Midway and Trinity Mills for eight years. He’s had a good run, but it might be time to tweak things a bit, at least in this economy. We eavesdropped on a conversation Maher was having with a couple at the bar—customers we had run down in the parking lot and asked to return because they had poked their heads in and assumed the place was closed when they didn’t see anyone inside—and he told them that, yes, the beginning of the year was pretty rough, but February was good due to the holidays. To reassure him, we wanted to run up to the bar and tell him that, hey, we love this place. Organic mixed greens dressed ever-so-lightly with balsamic-basil vinaigrette and served with sliced mango, hard-boiled egg, and corn bread was a welcome relief from the usual mixed-green or Caesar salad. White, flaky Gulf snapper, topped with crabmeat salad, was capably executed with beurre blanc studded with salty capers. A hearty, comforting dish, the boneless Niman ranch pork ribs were fall-apart tender and married nicely with perfectly cooked risotto spruced up with caramelized onions and just-wilted spinach in a Gorgonzola-sage cream sauce. However, despite all that, and no matter how gracious the server or how pretty the art, it’s hard to believe the neighborhood can support dinner at these prices. (Entrees range from $28 to $34.) If Maher would take his talents and retool the menu to meet the demands of the current climate, he’ll be around for at least another eight years.

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