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Dave’s Valley Grill offers old favorites, with creative flourishes

Albondigas is a hearty meatball soup in a tomato base spiced up with jalapeños. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal

Minnesota transplant David Hanisch opened Dave’s Valley Grill a year ago with a mission to bring Midwestern-influenced comfort food to the North Valley.

Comfort – or more specifically, shelter – was on my mind when I ducked into the restaurant recently during a rainstorm to meet a friend for lunch. Dave’s is set at a corner of the tidy pueblo-style Los Ranchos Villa strip mall. Posts arranged in herringbone patterns decorate the walls above the entrance.

Inside, a serpentine, turquoise-colored partition separates the waiting area from the spacious dining room. Hanisch and company have done a commendable job transforming the former home of Papa Burgers into a more sophisticated space, with a turquoise, gray and gold color scheme and paintings by local artists on the walls.

Comfort food is often described as evoking nostalgia, and some of the offerings at Dave’s Valley Grill, such as Granny’s Meatloaf ($15) and a Thanksgiving turkey bowl ($12), certainly aim for that. But the menu isn’t entirely backward-looking. There are creative flourishes here and there, such as the candied jalapeño and maple bacon in the 4th Street Burger ($13) and the Irish whiskey mushroom sauce on the pork chops ($17). There’s a good selection of local beers too.

Our meal got off to a promising start with a bowl of the Mexican meatball soup, albondigas ($5/$7). The meatballs are broken up into a thick, tomato-based broth studded with potatoes, peppers and onions. A generous sprinkling of cotija cheese brings both flavor and textural sharpness, and a big island of sour cream helps cool the heat of the jalapeños. It’s a hearty, well-balanced dish. The green chile biscuit accompanying the soup was pretty dense, with only a faint chile flavor – better for dipping in the soup than eating as a stand-alone side.

Dave’s Valley Burger has a lot of components, including bacon, barbecue sauce and onion rings. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

My friend, whose wife is Canadian, tried to discourage me from ordering poutine, but I was determined to try Dave’s version ($12). It’s nothing particularly exotic – just a bowl of french fries and cheese curds covered in gravy with served under a pile of rib-eye chunks. As it sits on the table, the dish undergoes a not entirely unappealing transformation: The fries soak up the savory gravy, and the rubbery, salty curds melt and harden into a thin sheet. The cubes of medium-cooked rib-eye atop it all are hit or miss; some are tender, others tough. They don’t particularly integrate well with the other ingredients. Something like a slow-cooked, shredded brisket might work better here.

Dave’s Valley Burger ($14), one of the menu’s pricier gourmet burger choices, takes the bacon-and-avocado bones of a California burger and throws in barbecue sauce, onion rings and blue cheese. The burger arrived just shy of the medium-rare requested. A lot of flavors fight for your palate’s attention, but in the end the blue cheese claims an overwhelming victory. The coating of the onion rings had a nice crunch, but the onions were cut more like collars than rings.

No complaints about the service. Dave himself was there to escort us to our table, and our waitress was friendly and well-versed on the menu.

Dave’s Valley Grill has charted an ambitious course, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. There are bound to be hits and misses with such a broad approach, but also plenty of options to bring you back for another visit.