Diner: Studying the Classics

Superior food and inviting atmosphere make for classic bars & grills

Bar food is rarely considered imaginative. Nearly every place serving pub grub has bar food must-do's on its menu: burgers and fries, a couple of iceberg lettuce-based salads and, of course, deep-fried appetizers (bonus points for a combo platter.) It's predictable stuff, and perhaps that's why it's well-loved. Sushi and tofu are OK for an occasional whim, but there's nothing like a good burger (beef or veggie) with a plate of crispy fries and a cold draft beer when the budget is tight and the palate craves familiar simplicity.

Many places in town fall into the category of "bar & grill." Any place with a beer tap, grill and a deep fryer can throw together a menu. Some of those places have pretty good food, too. Or a great divey feel. Or maybe a signature wing sauce. But only a few places stand out as all-around classic bar & grills.

Those are the spots that possess the delicate combination of superior bar food and an inviting atmosphere with its own personality.

Two in town — Arthur's in Hyde Park and Mt. Adam's Bar & Grill — have achieved the status of "landmark" on the bar & grill chart. Attracting diners and drinkers equally, both have been operating for decades, establishing their dominance in the burger-and-beer battle as newcomers open their doors throughout town. Although they both have a neighborhood feel and a group of loyal regulars, their clientele is not limited to their immediate neighborhood. Their landmark status makes them as much a destination dining spot as Skyline Chili, when the craving hits.

Mt. Adams Bar & Grill
Jeff Ruby's and the Waterfront may be where elite athletes and celebrities dine when they're in town, but Mt. Adams Bar & Grill is where the down-to-earth and local celebs hang out — including actors from the nearby Playhouse in the Park or the local broadcasting crowd after a show. Autographed pictures line the hallway that leads to one of the two non-smoking dining rooms. (The front bar room is designated primarily for drinking at the bar, but a few "smoking" tables and booths fill up the remainder of the space in this room.) The back room has a glassed-in porch feel with big windows and Country Living décor of lanterns, ivy and folk art roosters. I also like the variety of Mount Adams oil paintings in this room.

On a recent visit, we were one of the only tables on the porch when we were first seated. Early on a weekday evening, we decided a casual meal and a cold brew was a good way to end the workday. Others obviously had the same idea, but perhaps a little later than we did (maybe they just work harder?), as the porch filled completely by the time we paid our check.

The Mt. Adams menu includes its famous burgers, like the Classic ($3), topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, mayo and mustard, and the imaginative Broadcaster ($5.25), a five-ounce patty smothered with grilled onions, chopped green olives and melted Swiss. My husband's Turkey Burger ($3.50) and fries hit the spot. (Although turkey burgers can be bland and undercooked, his was flavorful and cooked through.) Appetizers include Nachos ($3.50) and Chicken Buddies ($5.50), but also some unusual selections, like Fried Jalapeno Ravioli ($4.50) and Sardines ($3.95) marinated in mustard, topped with sliced onions and served with saltines. Wings ($5.50) were saucy and fried, and as good as they are each time we have them here.

Friends swear by the Tuna Steak sandwich ($6.25) marinated in teriyaki sauce as one of the city's best tuna sandwiches. The same tuna steak is also available as a dinner ($11.95) served over rice. It earns one of the bar & grill's "Heart Healthy" icons — one of several designated as being low in fat. Imagine that ... on a bar & grill menu ... only in Mount Adams.

Arthur's Cafe
Arthur's Café sits just off Hyde Park Square, but still within prime people-watching proximity, especially if you can get one of tables along the front that faces Edwards Road. Otherwise, the people-watching inside the bar is almost as good. After a couple of happy hour drinks, the mural on the barroom wall (which includes my sister's college boyfriend) is good for laughing at '70s hairstyles.

Weekdays, the place packs a hearty lunch crowd, and you'll see many of the same faces returning after work. It may be in Hyde Park, but the crowd at the bar during happy hour is a mix of construction types and suits, old and young.

We joined the crowd with some friends and chatted with the friendly bartender one weekday after work recently. One friend eagerly picked up the first couple of rounds of beers, snowing us into believing his generosity was sincere, until we realized happy hour prices means $1 domestic drafts. After taking full advantage of happy hour, we didn't mind (or notice?), and continued to drink them even once the price increased to $2 after 7 p.m.

For dinner, it was a round of Burger Madness, $4.99 burgers with unlimited toppings. The Spicy Black Bean Burger was delicious topped with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss, and served with some of the best fries in town. Wings ($4.98) were another hit, and a staple on Arthur's lineup of appetizers. You'll find more of the usual bar apps here, like Fried Mozzarella and Potato Skins, but also Spinach Pizza ($4.29) was a delicious surprise, with a creamy, artichoke sauce. My Buffalo Chicken Salad was full of fresh iceberg lettuce, buffalo-seasoned grilled chicken, sliced mushrooms and cheese. Just like a bar & grill salad should be — promoting itself as healthy, yet so full of fattening ingredients that it tastes delicious.

Arthur's Cafe
Go: 3516 Edwards Road, Hyde Park

Call: 513-871-5543

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m.; Sunday 9:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m.

Prices: Reasonable

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Spicy black bean burger, Veggie burger, fish spinach pizza appetizer

Other: Happy hour, Monday-Friday 4-7 p.m.; Wednesday, $1 beers, 4-9 p.m.; Thursday, $2 imports, 4-9 p.m.; Sunday-Thursday, "Burger Madness," unlimited topping at no extra charge. Outdoor patio.

Mt. Adams Bar & Grill

Go: 938 Hatch St., Mount Adams
Call: 513-621-3666

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Sunday Noon-1 a.m.

Prices: Reasonable

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Red Meat Alternatives: Veggie burger, turkey burger, plenty of chicken and tuna options, veggie sandwich, pastas and salads, Mediterranean plate

Other: Carry out available

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