I heard a piece on NPR recently about the food choices people are making when they eat out. Apparently, while the American consumer fondles worry beads about the economy, venues like McDonald’s are reaping the benefit of all this fretting with increased sales. As a foodie and consumer I find this all rather depressing, but the good news is that there are good local cheap eats like Cityside Pub and Grill.
Establishments like Cityside help keep our wallets lined, but they're also a much-needed alternative to some of the more homogenized cheap eats out there.
Cityside’s menu is an interesting mix for a bar and grill. There are the usual suspects — burgers, fries, sandwiches, wings and pizza. Tuesday is Wing Night, Thursday is Burgermania and every day offers a Blue Plate Special. But there are some interesting ethnic echoes that run through the menu categories. The slaw is Asian (unfortunately it reminded me of breakfast cereal somehow), the pizza choices include a Thai Chicken option ($9) and there’s a salute to our area’s German heritage with house-made Reuben Balls and Potato Pancakes ($1.95). And, of course, you’ll find many choices from the bar and grill genre like Chili Cheese Fries ($4.95) and a Pot Roast Sandwich ($7.99). There’s even a bow to healthy eating with a Salmon Salad ($9.95), grilled and fried sandwich options and a couple of vegetarian options.
Normally this kind of approach doesn’t sit well with me. I tend to view an all-over-the-board menu as a crass attempt to appeal to everyone and a shameful inattention to creating an identity and standing behind it.
I’m not sure why it works at Cityside. Maybe it’s the inventive choices the restaurant makes? For example, I have to give them an A for creativity in the fried foods category. Along with your everyday onion rings and French fries, Cityside has a Veggie Roll, Cityside Rolls and Rueben Balls. They also have an interesting take on the slider concept called Cheesy Shrimp Sliders ($6.95).
The restaurant itself was surprisingly pleasant for a bar atmosphere once I got past my initial fear of walking in. I get a little freaked out when entering a neighborhood joint and everyone looks around at you because they figure they probably know whoever is coming in. I quickly got over it and settled into a comfortable booth. Being used to Ohio’s nonsmoking law, I often find it difficult to go to bars in northern Kentucky now, but I didn’t even think about this at Cityside until one of our party commented on how smoke-free the room was.
We started our meal with the house-made Crab Cakes ($7.75), two disappointingly small but good discs served with a horseradish cream sauce and a chipotle mayonnaise. We also had the Cityside Rolls ($6.95) and the Reuben Balls ($5.95). The rolls are the bar’s take on an egg roll stuffed with chicken, blue cheese, mozzarella, pepperoni, zucchini and hot sauce. I know, it sounds like an odd combination, but it works! The Reuben Balls are a version of sauerkraut balls and highly addictive with corned beef, sauerkraut and cheese.
Since we landed at Cityside on Burgermania night, two of our party went maniacal with a Santa Fe Burger ($7.95), which features roasted red pepper, guacamole, grilled onion, tortilla strips and pepper Jack cheese, and a naked burger. Cityside offers a number of other specialty burger choices including the classic Black and Blue topped with homemade blue cheese dressing, The Memphis Burger topped with house-made BBQ sauce, bacon and cheddar and the Cityside Burger topped with capicola ham, bacon, mushrooms, grilled onions and American cheese. All the burgers are a half-pound of Angus beef and come on a Kaiser bun. I was thoroughly impressed with the burgers and jealous that I didn’t order one. They were full of that wonderful fat, beefy flavor that only a burger has.
The wives at the table selected from the sandwiches, which offered a number of interesting choices. I selected the blackened Basa Fish Fillet on Rye ($7.95), and my friend had the Buffalo Chicken Wrap ($6.95) with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, blue-cheese dressing and hot sauce. While the wrap was way hotter than my blackened fillet, it was good nonetheless. Our friendly but not completely knowledge server couldn’t tell me what basa was, but it turns out the fish is essentially a type of fancy catfish. Real basa is found throughout most of Southeast Asia and has been raised by Vietnamese and Cambodian fish farmers in cages along the Mekong River.
Basa or catfish, it was quite tasty covered in mayo and served on two thick slabs of hearty rye. Both my bread and the hamburger buns were good signs that someone in the kitchen is paying attention to details. Rather than the egg-yellow sheen of most hamburger joints, these buns are snowy white with a dusting of flour on top.
Cityside is one of those places I’m already planning my next visit — the Thai Chicken pizza is calling my name as I write.
CITYSIDE PUB AND GRILL
Go: 500 Monmouth St., Newport
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday
Entree Prices: $6-$9
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetarian, chicken and fish
Accessibility: Fully accessible