Lost at sea

Treasure Island Supper Club struggles to set sail

By Paula Johnson

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1883 novel, there be pirates, and swabbing of decks, and one legged seamen and parrots. General swashbuckling abounded, but no such excitement was found at a visit to the novel’s namesake Treasure Island Supper Club in Moraine. In business 55 years, Treasure Island feels every one of those years in the way that it lacks relevance to what a contemporary restaurant is about.  When Treasure Island was built, it was a time when restaurants were banquet oriented—where it was all about the decor and theme of a place. Food actually wasn’t the focus, but then everything changed. Food got better. Our expectations changed with the rise of food culture. Our experiences and horizons broadened. Kiwis appeared in supermarkets. Food TV happened. We know what baba ghanouj is. Artisanal, house made, local, organic, sustainable—yes, these words can be overused and precious. But the point is, a restaurant that once had a reputation as a good place with good food—if things stagnated and the food didn’t get better—that restaurant is obsolete. In literary terms, it would go out of print.

Were Treasure Island to open today, people would go for the kitsch of a dining room with the feel of a pirate ship, but my bet is that it couldn’t sustain new diners beyond one visit. However, places like this do have long standing followings. They are places people go back to because they went as kids and have warm associations and memories. They know it’s not the best food in town, but like going there anyway. That being said, there are restaurants that rely on and celebrate tradition and have managed to remain high quality. The trick of this hinges on the high quality of ingredients, and the competent execution of old standards. So at the risk of slaying a sacred sea monster, I’ll forge on which my impressions.

PIP (Palate In Progress) and I were joined by sea worthy mates Captain Jinx and his able first in command Mrs. Jinx. We perused the menu as though it were a treasure map, searching for items to delight our palates. Bacon Wrapped Scallops ($10.95), Shrimp Cocktail ($9.95) and Spicy BBQ Wings ($7.95) were ordered up, and soon arrived. The five bacon wrapped scallops were fine, with a very sweet orange ginger dipping sauce on the side. The wings were meaty, and it’s difficult to do a shrimp cocktail incorrectly. Thus far we counted ourselves reasonably satisfied.

Treasure hunt

If we were still looking for treasure, we weren’t finding it with the salads or the entrees. Treasure Island’s house dressing was overly sweet, and thickly emulsified. And came in a little plastic cup, making it a pretty safe bet to assume they didn’t make it back in the galley.

Seafood seemed obligatory, and Mrs. Jinx stayed with the theme ordering a Seafood Platter ($17.95) consisting of a deviled crab, two fried shrimp, two frog legs, three fried scallops and a piece of cod. Not terribly expensive, but not terribly exciting either. In keeping with the evening’s theme, Mrs. Jinx selected Treasure Island’s potato boat as her side dish. What arrived was a boat-shaped dish filled with garlic mashed potatoes topped with cheddar cheese. Thematically appropriate but average in taste.

PIP and Captain Jinx went for steaks, a Ribeye and 12 oz. strip (both $23.95). Neither steak was particularly flavorful or tender, again bringing to mind my assessment of Mrs. Jinx’s dinner—not expensive, but forgettable. I decided on a really safe bet for my dinner—Crab Legs ($26.95). You steam them, you serve them with butter. They are delicious. Not much can go wrong.

Frittered out

But then there was my side order. I was so excited to see something unusual like the corn fritter on the menu—maybe this was their signature dish!  I was thinking it might be something that is so good people would come just for that. Alas, the fritter was tough, dry and—for the love of all that’s holy—served with something in a plastic packet calling itself “Breakfast Syrup.” And for that I am actually thankful, in that this product legally could not claim to label itself maple. I guess that’s a win at least.

Feel the burn

We finished with a disappointing cheesecake and carrot cake, both tasting distinctly of freezer burn. As I pushed the plate away I reflected on Treasure Island’s reliance on manufactured sauces, dressings and condiments. This speaks to a restaurant that’s good at ordering from a supply house, and not so good at preparing these things in house. And that is the crux of what separates a very average dining experience from one that stands out. We had arrived really wanting to like this place—it looked like a lot of fun—and departed feeling like Treasure Island maybe should stay undiscovered.

Treasure Island Supper Club is located at 4250 Chief Woods Dr. in Moraine. For more information, please call 937.299.6161 or visit treasureislanddayton.com.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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