Of all the things my generation just missed—the heyday of CBGB, abiding faith in the executive branch, sex before AIDS—I grow perhaps mistiest over the fern bar fad. By the time we came of age in the late 1980s, what had been for about 15 years the type of establishment for newly minted, nubile adults to mingle in—invariably & deliciously while downing daiquiris to the wry yet mellowtones of Rupert Holmes & Randy Newman, or, later, Midori Sours against a medley of, say, A Flock of Seagulls & Heaven 17 —was already ceding ground to New American bistros & warehouse raves.
The definition of a fern bar is a bit shifty (Wikipedia notwithstanding), but mine own mind’s eye scans a split-level expanse of wood panels, stained glass, brass railings, pendant lamps &, yes, a token plant or 2; here, the likes of white zin & tuna melts never left the building—no comebacks, ironic or otherwise, required.
Zoom outward with your own mind’s eye, & you’ll see that this about covers it.
That there’s a detail from the Pearl Street Grill, which opened in 1983, &, I’m betting, has hardly changed since. Why should it? It’s rolling in every ingredient comprising success’s recipe: well-foot-trafficked location; comfy, laidback atmo & service to match; sun-dappled back patio; a repertoire of the kinds of eats that lull us Americans into the sense of well-being only goofy self-indulgence fosters (if I may speak for the entire nation. I may? Shit then, hooray for universal health care, GLBT rights & gun control!).
Goofy self-indulgence being both the Director’s & my middle name (coincidentally enough, eh), we still come here far more often than any particular aspect of the experience justifies. Unless you count the fact that they give us no guff about setting up our Scrabble board & playing in their midst. Hence the game going on behind this Cobb,
which hardly distinguishes itself in the lineup of Cobbs I’ve had locally; ditto the Caesar, the Greek, & the steak salad. All are just fine, of course. But where the point is supergoofy self-indulgence, the logical choices are things like the 2-cheese-&-green-chile-stuffed Mexican egg rolls, the asiago-artichoke dip with garlic beer bread, the shepherd’s pie—
with mammoth chunks of tender lamb & carrot sucked into the rich muck of gravy below—
[UPDATE! On my rec, Comrade L gave it a whirl. Boy, was my face red when it came out within 2 min., no exaggeration, of her order, only to offer up chalky potatoes, half-cooked carrots, & gravy that was literally rather than metaphorically muck. The reason for the stark difference is anyone’s guess, & I still generally trust PSG to glorify junk food properly, but consider yourself duly warned re some inconsistency]—
& the oddly off-menu, housemade sweet potato chips.
I can’t imagine that the happy hour pretzels are housemade,
mainly because pretzel making’s a tad labor intensive—but so much the better if they are, because they’re just right, hot & soft yet super-chewy; for that matter, if they’re from a box, the kitchen does a noteworthy job of disguising the fact.
Other surprisingly well-made dishes include the mussels in an excellently peppery, garlicky, white wine–based broth, served with grilled bread & plenty of lemon wedges
& the occasional special that is beer cheese soup, smooth yet robust.
The Director’ll also vouch for the buffalo burger, I for the nachos ¡con gusto! with ground beef & green chile, & both of us for the fact that, if Pearl Street Grill’s one of its namesake’s less brilliant lights, it remains one of its more solid fixtures.