Top Nosh

Bob's Raises The Bar On Pub Fare.

BOB'S IS, FIRST and foremost, a bar. It's also a grill, an oyster bar, a dance club and a dandy place to catch the game of the week.

The latest installment to the Metro Restaurant empire, which includes Firecracker, Metropolitan Grill, City Grill, McMahon's Prime Steakhouse and Keaton's in the Foothill's Mall, Bob's has settled into the former City Grill location on East Tanque Verde Road. (City Grill has moved down the road a piece to the former Keaton's locale.)

However, Bob's is in a class by itself, connected to its sibling restaurants only in terms of genteel surroundings and high-quality fare. Anyone entering Bob's with the impression that the Metro Restaurant dining experiences are interchangeable will learn otherwise the minute he enters the door.

The open, almost cavernous space has a freestanding bar, a game room (darts, billiards), a center filled with tables (cleared for dancers and musicians on Friday and Saturday nights) and cushy elevated booths along the perimeter. Exposed, blackened ceilings and surreptitiously dim lighting, design elements encouraging a speakeasy comparison, contribute to the feeling of vastness.

Countering this impression slightly is a brightly lit and confetti-walled open kitchen, attracting the eye with its frenetic activity and blazing grills. This is a professional kitchen with gourmet aspirations. Bob's elevates bar food to stunningly new heights, and every item comes in under $10. Hamburgers, pretzels and pizza abound, but never have these standards been so expertly prepared or so elegantly presented.

Take the California-style wood-fired pizzas, LP-sized disks with a pita-thin crust topped with a variety of fresh ingredients.

At Bob's even a standard cheese pie gets the royal treatment. Mozzarella, smoked gouda, asiago, sliced roma tomato and fresh basil top Bob's Big Cheese pizza. With an icy mug of Bob's Big Bad Ale (according to our waitress, a microbrew from Yakima, WA), this is an ambrosial repast.

Of the other half-dozen pizza variations, the whimsically titled "This mushroom walks into a bar...," consisting of green chiles, button mushrooms and the three aforementioned cheeses, is the target meal for a future visit. Barbecue chicken and vegetarian Mediterranean varieties provide additional possibilities.

Not surprisingly, Bob's is big into appetizers, specially priced every day during Happy Hour. Once again, typical tavern fare receives a nouvelle twist.

Fresh oysters are a Bob's hallmark, and nowhere in town will you find better bivalves. An order of oysters on the half shell nets six monster oysters, several wedges of fresh lemon and a horseradish-infused cocktail sauce. Even if you think you don't like oysters, you can't help but enjoy this treat. The uncertain should order a two-bit shooter with oyster and cocktail sauce during Happy Hour. You won't be disappointed.

Buffalo chicken tenders are another delight, crispy and tender hot-sauce soaked strips served with the traditional celery sticks and real blue cheese dressing. The lack of tiny bones dispenses with the usual mess, and the sharp dip is so much more satisfying than the now ubiquitous ranch dressing.

Even the humble pretzel gets spruced up at Bob's. Here the large fresh twist is baked in the wood-burning pizza oven until golden yet still soft, sprinkled with coarse-grain salt and accompanied by Dijon mustard. Bob's tap ale again matches up magnificently with this savory snack.

Hummus, marinated beef and chicken skewers, quesadillas, nachos, stuffed potato skins and Bob's big bad chili round out the appetizer menu. And if that doesn't sate you, there are a few more items to consider.

Burgers at Bob's are first-rate: big, juicy and prepared in ways undreamt of by fast food magnates. The Metro is burger perfection, a giant medium-rare patty topped with crumbled blue cheese, a few strips of mesquite-smoked bacon and red onion.

Other hamburger variations are the Texas Road House (barbecue sauce, red onion and melted cheddar cheese), the Big Easy (ground beef patty laced with Cajun spices and topped with sautéed bell pepper and caramelized onions), the Sign Me Up (two patties with bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheddar cheese) and the Firehouse Bob (a patty smothered in big bad chili and topped with diced onions and cheddar cheese). Of course, there is such a thing as your basic burger, but why bother when there's genius at work?

Cold and grilled sandwiches, the final offering at Bob's, range from the essential turkey with lettuce, onion and tomato to the Dagwood, a monster assemblage of sliced turkey, roasted top round beef, corned beef, Swiss, jack and cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion miraculously squeezed between two slices of rye bread.

Still not tempted? Bob's has included a grilled 10-ounce New York strip steak for those craving a big-time meal. (Usually priced at $9.95, this hunk of beef is reduced on Tuesday and Sunday nights to $7.95.)

As impressive as Bob's food is, the joint is primarily a bar, and on this score also receives high marks. An extensive list of margaritas and specialty tequilas, as well as a batch of martini cocktails, highlight the drink menu along with a short wine list (available by the glass or bottle). The Screaming Elk ("Two of these and you'll lose your head. Just ask Bob the Elk," warns the menu, referring to a mounted beast on the far wall) sounded intriguing, but when told the drink contained vodka, Bailey's Irish Cream, kahlua and amaretto, we resisted the temptation.

True, Bob's is a bar, but it's classy, unobtrusive and serves some of the tastiest food in town. Whatever Metro Restaurants is doing here, it's working beautifully.

Bob's. 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. 733-6262. Open daily 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., serving food until midnight. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, DC, CH. Menu items: $.50-$9.95.
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