by Mike Corrigan

Dining establishments right under our noses are often the very ones we seem (unintentionally) to overlook. Such has been the case with Far West Billiards, located a mere three blocks from our offices. This place -- one of our favorite watering holes -- serves up some mighty fine grub that far exceeds the modest "pub food" designation. Here's the interesting part: They now serve their savory bits starting at 11:30 am, transforming Far West into a bona fide lunch destination. We thought it was high time to tell you about it.

Tucked into the corner street-level space of the Montvale Building, just south of the Fox, Far West finds itself in the heart of the thriving, expanding Davenport District. Though it is known as a prime spot to get in a game of 8-ball (with six tables and hourly rates), it is much more than that. Everything is easy here, thanks to a relaxed atmosphere, a smart, friendly staff, comfy furniture, premium spirits and a good selection of local, regional and international beer taps (eight, with a few always in rotation). The d & eacute;cor is decidedly modern yet possesses all the comforts of home, with lots of brick, hardwoods and textured metal, a couch in the back, several overstuffed chairs, a mix of contemporary and antique lighting and art from local artists covering the walls. There's a good CD jukebox -- if you don't plug it, they will -- and excellent opportunities for people-watching through the walls of tall windows. Smoking is allowed in "designated areas." The clientele is in the 20- to 40-something range and includes young professionals as well as the many artists, musicians and writers living and working in the neighborhood.

Aside from its obvious pleasures as a pub, Far West is also a nice and (frequently) quiet place around noontime to snag a satisfying nosh. The menu thoughtfully combines traditional pub fare with more adventurous starters, sandwiches, entrees and salads. There are such expected standards as the D-Lux Burger (a char-grilled hamburger with cheddar cheese, tomato, onions and greens, along with fries, onion rings, side salad or cup of soup for $6), fish and chips (with salad for $7.50) and a marinated steak sandwich (with saut & eacute;ed mushrooms, onions and provolone cheese with your choice of side for $7.50). Variety comes in the form of the Southwest Platter (grilled chicken or mushroom quesadilla served with chile con queso, pico de gallo and guacamole and a mound of tortilla chips for $8.50), borscht (yep, that beet-based Russian soup) at $3 for a cup or $5.50 for a bowl) and the tempting "Falafel Witch" (falafel, tzatziki sauce, feta, tomato, onion and greens in grilled pita for $6.50).

I opted for the fish taco platter ($8), which came with two white corn tortillas stuffed with lightly battered fried cod strips, spring greens and a wonderfully tangy feta-yogurt sauce, servings of guacamole and pico de gallo salsa and a heap of tri-colored tortilla chips. The guacamole and pico de gallo were both outstanding and obviously made fresh. The salsa's ingredients were diced into tiny bits, but you could still make out the ingredients amid the blending of colors and tastes: tomato, onion and cilantro with jalapenos for a gentle kick. The fish tacos themselves might just be the tastiest in town.

Further mining a south-of-the-border vein, Amy struck gooey gold with the quesadilla dinner ($9), a grilled quesadilla with melted cheddar cheese and your choice of chicken or saut & eacute;ed mushrooms (she opted for the latter) served with Spanish rice, pinto beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. The mushrooms made for a delicious, meatless alternative -- you don't even miss the meat. The rice has a creamy texture and was mildly spicy. Chunky, tender pintos were a welcome change from the more-often-encountered pond of refried beans.

Sheri thought the pasta dish would be fair game. The Pasta Carbonara ($8) was the perfect size for lunch, not the overwhelming mass of sauce and noodles you sometimes see with dinner servings. It comes with a little cup of mixed field greens and nice red tomato pieces. The pasta was a nice toothsome al dente, and the "Carbonara" element came from little bits of salty, savory prosciutto blended into the Alfredo sauce. Topped with grated Parmesan, it made for a fortifying, comforting meal.

Like most of what you encounter at Far West, it's just the thing to ease you through another ridiculous and hectic day in the life.

Publication date: 05/08/03

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