Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The Boondocks Lounge at 3306 North First Ave. is best known for the enormous wine bottle monolith out front. It’s not as well-known for its breakfasts and burgers, but it should be.
I rolled in just after 9 a.m. on a recent morning and decided on a plate of huevos rancheros, but it was a tough choice. The breakfast menu is huge and chock full of everything from corned-beef hash to apple pancakes. There’s a nice omelet selection, too.
The kitchen — known as the Range Rider Grill — is probably best-known for the burgers topped with ingredients like peanut butter, fried eggs, feta cheese and other things usually reserved for fancier burger joints. Not that the meat loaf, salads, appetizers and other items aren't respectable, but the regulars say the burgers are best, so we're sticking with that.
Food accounts for about a fifth of the Boondocks’ sales, a stunning figure for a neighborhood bar. I sat down with owner Cathy Warner to find out how she does it.
PG: What makes the food here good bar food?
CW: We might be a little different than some bars because we’ve owned four different restaurants and we can handle a full menu. To do that you need people in the kitchen who know what they’re doing. These days, you can’t just serve bar food. We’ve got families who come in here, so you have to have a grilled cheese for the kids and salads for the ladies.
PG: What makes the food here different than what you find at other bars?
CW: We’ve been doing this for 15 ½ years. Bill (Shew) and I are very particular. I have a favorite line for the cooks: “If you wouldn’t serve it to your mother, don’t serve it to a customer.” It’s also about consistentcy.
PG: What’s the most popular item?
CW: What we sell the most of is our Big Ass Cheeseburger. On Wednesdays it’s $4.50, with fries, and that includes tax. It’s a half-pound burger. I don’t think anyone else is doing that at this point.
PG: Your food sales doubled over the past three or four years. Why?
CW: When Bill and I decided we needed to get a better grip on the food, he and I spent a lot of time in (the kitchen). We made some personnel changes — and we have very little turnover — and then Danny Ferguson came over from Bobo’s and he knew the basics. Bill and I have been cooking side-by-side since 1983, and have known each other since 1972. I think that helps.
PG: What makes dining here different than eating at a restaurant?
CW: It’s a lot more casual. We’re not one-dimensional at all. We get college kids, but we’re not a college bar. We have lawyers who come in and play pool with day laborers. You have to be open-minded here because you never know who you’re going to be sitting next to. I tell my staff all the time: “We don’t have any prejudice, except against assholes.”
TW: So, if I came in here at 9 a.m. and ordered a beer and a shot of Maker’s Mark with my breakfast, would I get a funny look?
CW: No. Absolutely not. We have people who do that all the time. We have people who come in and get a jumbo and biscuits and gravy; that’s a very popular one. A lot of people come in and have a beer with breakfast. We have a lot of customers who work the night shift. They have a beer and they get hungry, and some order a burger and some order breakfast.
The Boondocks Lounge’s kitchen sells the full menu from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day. It also has free Wi-Fi, and Warner is working on wine-pairings for the food. The menu isn’t posted on the website, but Warner says it will be very soon.