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Restaurant review: Saul Good isn't all great, but plenty to love

The portobello sandwich has a bit of pesto; the fries are thin and crisp.
The portobello sandwich has a bit of pesto; the fries are thin and crisp.

Saul Good's theme, as the name — a contraction of "it's all good" — implies, is casual fun, complete with an open kitchen's hustle and bustle and crowded tables of after-office parties. The menu follows suit: What's not to like, after all, about a place that tries to please everyone while focusing on draft beer and chocolate fondue?

Of those two specialties, my wow moment came when a beer sampler arrived on a long, narrow wooden tray, containing four foamy brews in varying hues of amber. Each was freshly pulled, delicious and spoke entirely to its own attributes without any gimmickry. The effect was uncontrived drama.

The fondue itself, by contrast, its decadence of chocolate notwithstanding, didn't seem like a whole lot more than melted Ghirardelli. There are better desserts, including the statuesque Kahlua cupcake, tall with whipped cream, or the hot chocolate chip cookie served in a cast-iron skillet.

But what's in between the opening lines and the last number?

If you like the simplicity of planks of bread and melted cheese with your glass of ale, they will arrive toasted and piping hot. There also are do-it-yourself wraps. One featured chicken with an Asian flair, nice but needing pliable butter lettuce rather than crunchy iceberg to actually wrap. Better were the lime-marinated fish tacos with grilled tuna chunks, sweet pineapple and banana salsa studded with diced onions, an unwieldy slaw mix and, amazingly, better corn tortillas than you get in most Mexican restaurants. This starter could be a meal in itself.

Compared to the appetizers, the soups and salads fall flat. The "cassoulet" was really beef and bean soup sprinkled with dry toasted bread crumbs. There was no richness from fattier meats like duck or a bready layer on top. Likewise, the salads, from Caesar to fruity to meaty, lack finer ingredients and the cohesion of really great dressings to be anything exciting — what's new?

So on to better news.

Saul Good's pizza, like that of other current hot spots, is thin-crusted. (Lexington restaurants finally got the memo.) The crust is more cracker than focaccia, a texture that many enjoy. Toppings travel the globe from Argentinian marinated steak to Thailand's peanut sauce to our very own hot Brown. If you opt for the straightforward Saul Cheese, be warned that the pizza's "arrabiata" sauce is anything but spicy.

Sandwiches are wonderful, from the juicy burgers with cheese and pineapple to the smoky, hearty and heavenly grilled portobello mushroom smeared with a bit of pesto. The fictional "Saul" should reconsider the burger buns, though, because things become soggy two-thirds of the way through. French fries, skinny and loaded with seasoning salt, if not perfect, are pretty irresistible.

But my favorite dish, one that blends nostalgia with the joy of something new on a local menu, is the chicken and waffles. For me, this classic 2 a.m. "snack" was created to ward off potential hangovers. The combination sounds weird, I know, but keep an open mind. Even when the fried chicken is a bit stringy and the waffle needs more richness and you wish for real maple syrup, the sum total truly is all good.

In the end, I think this sort of stretch is what makes Saul Good interesting: the idea that there is nothing wrong with blending dinner and breakfast, the conviction that beer and chocolate can live happily side by side, and the idea that it just might be possible to be all things to all people.

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