The Limestone corridor has terrific culinary eclecticism. A French bistro is just a short stroll from a restaurant that covers the Indian subcontinent from Delhi to Goa. There is a hot dog hut with abiding longevity, a New York-style delicatessen that serves H&H bagels, and a gay bar or three. And some spots even go local.
The latest to do that is Sidebar Grill — very decidedly also a bar. It is a pipsqueak-size place loaded with tchotchkes, memorabilia and enormous sensitivity to simple, good food.
The compact quarters — in the former Bistro 147 space across from Courthouse Plaza — can be noisy, especially if the music is cranked up, but the staff seems to watch the room and turn down the volume when people are talking, demonstrating that a server doesn't have to be in your face to address your needs. In fact, sometimes the subtle indirectness of careful observation is much better than constant attention.
But I digress.
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Sidebar's unpretentious menu is focused and just about as small as the space. There are limited choices — salads, a few fried items and grilled sandwiches — but most are done extremely well, and sometimes slowly, one by one, which can take a long time when the place is packed.
While you're waiting, enjoy the chips sampler ($4.95), a house specialty with three kinds of homemade potato chips, all just slightly thicker than the packaged variety, with crunch and texture infinitely better than a bag of salt, fat and air. One has barbecue seasoning, another is dusted with dried herbs and dill, and a third is simply straightforward salt and pepper. As if that weren't indulgent enough, they are served with a ranch-style dip.
I loved the barbecue sandwich made with pulled, smoked pork ($6.95). It is better here than at some of the 'cue joints in town: a spicy sweet sauce coats the tender meat, just enough to slightly drip over the sides of a white bun, and the portion control is just right.
Even if you have ordered the chips, don't allow weird guilt to keep you from getting fries with your sandwich. They are skinny, hand-cut and piping hot, whether made from russets ($2.95) or sweet potatoes ($4.95).
Or get the fish and chips entree ($9.95); the fries come at no additional charge. This wonderful pub food, perfect with one of the beers on tap, is nothing more complicated than delicate, flaky white fish, battered and deep-fried, with tartar sauce and a tiny portion of coleslaw.
Vegetarians can select a bean burger or a portobello sandwich ($6.95), the mycological equivalent of beef. The mushroom was grilled, sliced and piled on a bun with perfectly ripe summer tomatoes. (I wonder how this will be handled in the winter.)
There were only a couple of missteps at Sidebar.
The chili ($4.95 for a bowl) could have been richer and heartier. It was soupy, with too much tomato liquid, and it arrived lukewarm.
The salads, too, could be more exciting for their prices: $2.95 for a side salad with the expected lettuce, tomato, red onions and shredded carrot, $4.95 for the larger house. Leaving aside my personal preference for the kitchen doing the tossing, try mixing an overflowing bowl with a tiny cup of dressing, especially if it is the increasingly popular balsamic vinaigrette emulsified to the consistency of chocolate pudding.
As for dessert, rarely does one encounter deep-fried Twinkies, but Sidebar has them. My bar neighbor compared them to cream puffs drizzled with chocolate syrup. I will take her word for it.
So there you have Sidebar's niche on Limestone: fun, funky, affordable, local and, more often than not, delicious.