by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & harley's Grill and Spirits never masked its displeasure with the closure of the Monroe Street bridge, just down the hill from its location on the near north side. Neither does it hide its great joy in the bridge's recent reopening. "Hallaluya" (sic), the back of the menu proclaims in big black letters. "The bridge is open! We survived 987 days."
We suspect the survival of Charley's had something to do with its proximity to the county courthouse. Lawyers gotta eat, after all. And until Marshall Chesrown turns Kendall Yards into the blessed Shangri-La everyone thinks it's going to be, the eateries around county government headquarters are not exactly abundant.
But their survival must also have something to do with the ambience inside. Not that it's anything to write home about. We sat in the rear lounge, which was oppressively dark, with only a short row of tinted windows on the Monroe Street side. The carpet was industrial-issue green, the curtains were loud and garish. But it felt like home. That is, it felt like a suitable water hole for local clientele -- a feeling that seemed substantiated by the trickle of grisly, bearded fellows coming in the back door. It would've been even more substantiated had some of those locals started rifling through the tub of board games ("They've got Trivial Pursuit!") in the corner. But no such luck.
We sat down at a table in the center of the room, near the digital jukebox, which we were pleased to discover was stocked with a handful of discs from regional acts. We were even more pleased to discover that when we sat down, the maroon Naugahyde chairs expelled a sigh of air ("aaaaaahhhhhh"), essentially relaxing for us. Which was good; this being a late lunch, our hunger was quickly mounting.
We tore into Charley's "Savory Shareables" portion of the menu, opting for a plate of wings and "Puka's Steak Bites" ($8). The wings ($8.50) were forgettable. Fried and dipped in Louisiana hot sauce, there was nothing technically wrong with them -- they were tangy and left a pleasant burning sensation on the lips -- but they either weren't hot enough or weren't sweet enough. Maybe just not flavorful enough.
Moving onto the steak bites, though -- we were impressed. We'd only ordered them because they sounded novel, but the exceedingly rich, bite-sized chunks of sirloin steak, bathed in wine and herbs, were an excellent appetizer. Garlic-phobes will hate them, as they reek of the stinking bulb (as did our breath for several hours afterward), but then we're no garlic-phobes.
Luke Baumgarten had no choice but to choose the aptly named "Mr. Roy Baumgartner" ($6.25), a sandwich full of German sausage, kraut, Swiss cheese and Creole mayo, on a hoagie roll. While the ingredients were all tasty on their own (yes, he separated them out at one point to sample them individually; yes, he's a little compulsive), the multifarious flavors, when mixed, clashed with each other. The effect, he says, was to muddy the whole thing considerably. His arguments left our table suspecting him of nascent Nazi sympathies. Did he seek to purify his German sandwich of certain Swiss and Creole elements? Zack and I eyed him cautiously.
The former, watching his figure, got the Divine Salad ($7.75), a small oval plate stacked with greens, topped with artichoke hearts, green onions, tomato, black olives and toasted walnuts. On top lay what looked like a very delectable chicken breast, cut into strips. Looked good, but tasted ... bad. Funky. Luke suggested it was undercooked, though it was white all the way through. Zack and I both thought it tasted like fish. Or at least a little fishy. Anyway, not what chicken's supposed to taste like. Ultimately, he found the salad lacking in size and excitement and deemed it "pretty good -- if you just got out of prison." Cruel, though geographically insightful. That's not how chicken's supposed to taste.
Zack's suspect meat had me a little skeptical about my choice of the Pesto Chicken sandwich ($7). But my worries were quickly abated. The chicken in the sandwich was fine. Damn good, in fact. And it was complimented by Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and a tangy sun-dried tomato pesto. What really made the sandwich, though, were the couple strips of bacon on top of the chicken. The smoke of the bacon worked well with the chicken and took a little edge off the pesto. Of course, so did the Northern Lights pale ale.
All in all, it was pretty good. But not something that we are
going to trek across the bridge for too often.
Charley's Grill & amp; Spirits; 801 N. Monroe St.; 328-8911; Mon-Fri 11 am-2 am, Sat 4:30 pm-2 am