Good Sports

The burgers are delicious, though the rest of the food is ho-hum at the friendly Midtown Bar and Grill

Old joke: A hamburger walks into a bar. The bartender says, "We don't serve food here."

The Midtown Bar and Grill does serve food, but it is a little discriminatory--it reserves its best service for the burgers.

Last year, Midtown Bar and Grill took over the building near Speedway and Rosemont boulevards most recently occupied by Olive R Twist, and in decades long past by finer restaurants. A few vestiges of more elegant times remain, principally a large stone fireplace in the small central room. Today, though, the place is a sports-oriented bar and lounge, with an off-track betting room off the front entrance, a substantial bar in the back (equipped with pool tables) and a large outdoor patio. Televisions abound in every space, from large flat-screens to banks of what look like old security monitors. Presumably, almost every one can be turned to a different event on busy game days.

When I visited for lunch on two midweek days not long ago, there wasn't much action on the screens, nor was there a great deal of activity around the tables or at the bar. A few patrons who looked like regulars were on hand, but the ESPN feed was a lot louder than the ambient conversations. The servers, not being harried by a crowd, were friendly, efficient and to the point.

Presumably, the place is a lot busier on weekends and maybe at night; it doesn't seem so much a destination for food as a place to hang out, watch a game, have a few drinks and, oh yeah, get a bite to eat when the munchies hit.

The edible fare at Midtown is uneven, but let me start with the good news: Owners Frank and Marsha Silverman pride themselves on their burgers, and rightly so. The options don't get much more exotic than a veggie burger, and most cost about $6.50. My friend Harry and I steered toward the high end of the burger scale, and ordered the bleu burger ($7, with bleu cheese) and the bacon burger ($7.25, plus another 50 cents for a slice of cheddar, because I was hankering for an edible heart attack). We ordered the meat cooked medium, and that's exactly what we got; traces of pink had been exterminated, yet the ground beef remained juicy and not unduly charred. My burger carried an attractive smoky flavor, probably from the bacon, and while my thin slice of cheese didn't have much of an effect, Harry thought the amount of bleu cheese on his burger was just right, piquant but not overpowering.

The hamburgers--of fairly generous size, but certainly not big enough to dislocate your jaw--come with your choice of fries, potato salad, pasta salad or coleslaw. Opt for the fries; the potato salad had a few nice hints of mustard but was rather dry, and the slaw, while not bad, was undistinguished.

I'd been introduced to the fries on an earlier visit, when to my surprise, they were served, instead of the more traditional mashed potatoes, with the chicken-fried steak ($9.99). They're curly fries, crisp and not the least bit greasy. The meat portion was reasonable for 10 bucks--two thin slices, breaded and fried, tender and moist on the inside. The problem here was the gravy (white, as they prefer in Texas, rather than brown, which is common elsewhere in the South). Served on the side in a little bowl, the gravy was hot but gelatinous. I tried dipping a piece of the meat into it, but succeeded only in mushing the gravy around rather than getting it to adhere to the tidbit on my fork. So I spread the gravy directly on the cutlets, which is usually how it comes anyway, but it was so bland that it did the meat no favors.

My friend Robert made his selection from the nonburger part of the sandwich menu. (Each section has a sports-oriented heading: Appetizers fall under "Kick Off"; salads are "Greens"; chili and clam chowder are "Warm Ups"; sandwiches are gathered under the "Starting Line Up"; burgers come "From the Bull Pen"; and the "Main Event" is where you find, for $9.99, chicken-fried steak, a T-bone, fried chicken and so forth, with a choice of sides.)

Anyway, Robert went for the hot pastrami on toasted rye ($7), along with a salad ($1.50). Robert declared that it was "a decent salad for iceberg lettuce," and approved of the honey-mustard dressing. The generous amount of shredded pastrami on his sandwich was too spicy for his taste, "But I'm a wuss," he admitted, and I suspect I would've liked it better.

Unless you live or work in the neighborhood, you probably won't be inspired to visit Midtown Bar and Grill specifically for a meal, although the burgers just might be a sufficient lure. Still, if you're kicking back, watching a game, having a few beers and getting hungry, Midtown will give you what you need.

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