Long before I could afford to dine in restaurants with cloth napkins, pub fare was the food du jour. Barring that bag of Fritos I might have munched en route from one crime scene to the next, the only meals I enjoyed in those rookie reporter days arrived in paper-lined plastic baskets.
The ambience was always the same: the sizzling fryer, the crack of a cue ball and the crunching of peanut shells under foot. Even the ketchup-splotched menus read similarly from one pub to the next — burgers, fries, onion rings.
Not any more. Pub food’s come a long way.
Avoiding those places dark and dingy, I sought to find the best bar food in our local communities. Over the course of a week, I compared tapas and entrees from three bars that offer an interesting array of fare — the Office Bar and Grill, Tavern on Brand and Leo’s All-Star Sports Bar.
Walking into this spacious pub, with its exposed brick walls, high-back leather benches and hanging mini pendant lights, it’s hard to believe the drabbest of dive bars used to occupy this space at 3516 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. The versatile menu offered a selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees including horseradish-crusted salmon with sauteed spinach.
I chose the grilled chicken breast burger with a side of shoestring fries, while my friend opted for a Cajun tuna melt. Key word: melt. Unfortunately the bread was as cold as the cheese, which managed to avoid melting, even after sending it back for a warm-up. Odd for a place whose menu lists its executive chef by name. My fries were lightly seasoned, and the chicken breast was adequate, if not lonely, under half a lettuce leaf and scrawny tomato.
I can’t remember ever having such friendly service. I’d barely plopped onto a bar stool at 2941 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, when a beaming waitress navigated crowded tables to take our drink order. She even warned me that the house’s tempting specialty sauce, raspberry habanero, is more atomic than spicy. Good tip. I dotted it onto my chili and still felt a hefty kick.
Sadly, for a menu with so much wit (pizza is under the heading “Round Things”) and promise — ceviche, ahi taquitos, cream-cheese-stuffed jalapenos, New York steak — I left disappointed. My entree, saved only by a side of spicy sauce, tasted as lackluster as my friend’s chicken Philly sandwich. However, the spectacular service and expansive menu will lure me back to this La Crescenta bar for another round.
Wood-beam ceilings, exposed brick walls, hanging pendant lights and a sizable front window give this bar an airy feel. The eclectic menu and cloth napkins give the place a high-end feel. Located at 208 N. Brand Blvd., this Glendale tavern offers tapas, such as stuffed shrimp, tuna sashimi, pineapple chicken skewers and grilled portabella, with entrees ranging from distinctively southern Po-Boy sandwiches to sliders and salads.
The only thing harder than making a choice — I selected the chicken skewers and my friend went with steak quesadillas — was waiting for the food to arrive. At 15 minutes my stomach growled, at 20 minutes I squirmed in my high-back stool. Looking around, I counted 14 people in the bar, and only one had food. So, I inquired.
“The food will be out when it’s ready,” the bartender said through a smile.
I considered quipping back, noting her tremendous grasp of the obvious, but that’s when she served the food, and my fleeting irritation was quelled. The steak was tender and slathered in warm, gooey cheese, while the grilled chicken was moist and perfectly seasoned, and accompanied by savory, grilled pineapple slices.
Tavern on Brand. The food is superior to any pub fare I’ve ever eaten. It edges past its local competition, and as for the 25-minute lag time, maybe it was a fluke. Regardless, the food is worth the wait.
Get in touch DONNA HUFFAKER EVANS’ culinary experiences range from hole-in-the-wall hamburger stands to cafes in Krakow. She can be reached at dhuffaker@ sbcglobal.net. Get in touch DONNA HUFFAKER EVANS’ culinary experiences range from hole-in-the-wall hamburger stands to cafes in Krakow. She can be reached at dhuffaker@ sbcglobal.net.