Never underestimate the power of a properly made meatball sandwich. It’s not a sexy sandwich, as it’s pretty much designed to explode, wilt, and melt into your mouth. But with the right components — a bright marinara, light but rich meatballs, enough melted cheese to cover but not smother, and a properly toasted bun — it’s inhalable magic. The meatball sandwich at the newly opened Geno’s is properly made. At $10 on a roll or $12 on a hoagie, it’s a little pricey on the face of it, but the flavor justifies the outlay.
Geno’s, a new shop from the owners of the Lyndale Tap House, seems to be ripping a page right out of the Mucci’s book: Serve up old-school Italian-American favorites using good ingredients, and reap all the goodwill and nostalgia that exists for a much-degraded, much-abused classic cuisine that has in recent years been a repository for laziness and straight-from-the-food-service-bag cookery.
Nightlife columnist Tom Horgen takes a brief break from pounding shots of rail tequila to pen a passionate apologia for the Lyndale Tap House, calling out the “just bloggers” who went after it. His theory: a few weeks post-opening is too early for snarky remarks. How about this as a proposal, Tom Horgen: As food critics, we collectively suspend judgment on any place not yet charging people money for food. After that, if you overcook your chicken to the consistency of leather, it’s fair game for commentary. You can’t demand a place to be perfect when it opens — but you can expect a focused concept and competent execution of basic tasks. Moreover, a lot of restaurants open smoothly to general acclaim — if Bar La Grassa and Anchor Fish and Chips (and probably a dozen other new restaurants in 2009) can stand an early assessment, so can a well-funded venture like the Lyndale.
Uptown’s newly opened Lyndale Tap House seems to exist not so much as a casual pub-grub eatery, but as a middle finger extended toward Danny Schwartzman of Common Roots, whose eco-everything establishment does business right down the block. Despite having “tap house” in its name, only two of the Lyndale’s 17 draft beers are local (three if you count Leinie’s). The fish and chips is made with Atlantic cod, which rates an all caps red AVOID on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And the atmosphere is a too-dark, too-loud typhoon of “dude-brah.” If I’d been given a quarter for every time the guy at the table next to me said the word “blowjob,” I could’ve bought a $4.50 Mich Ultra for the already sozzled fratern-o-winner at the bar who was attempting to force innocent bystanders to join him in a semi-coherent sing-along to “Rock With You.”
In fact, the Lyndale Tap House has, in the few short weeks since its opening, already developed an atmosphere as toe-tappingly cretinous as that of Cowboy Slim’s. This is no doubt a tribute to the business plan for this restaurant, which seems to be a sound one in principle — pack ’em in, crank the tunes, dim the lights, and keep the beer flowing.
If this doesn’t turn you off — if you are, in fact, thinking: “Thank God, the last thing we need is the return of Cafe Agri,” then you’ll probably be pleased to hear that food at the Lyndale Tap House is absolutely within the target demographic’s comfort zone, and that some of it actually works quite well.
House-made pretzel batons ($5) may be the best thing on the menu, and that’s no knock. They’re presented like flowers in a vase, served with an over-sweet mustard and a ravishingly creamy cheddar-ale dip. They’ve got a great crispy-chewy exterior, a balanced level of salt, and a nice substantial interior crumb. These are carbs of a truly high order.
The Tap House hamburger ($8) is also surprisingly solid — a harmonious balance between meat, bun, and toppings, decent char on the meat, a bit of pink in the interior, and, overall, an unpretentious, old-school bar-food dinner experience.
For all the hubbub (prime menu placement and onlinechatter) about the Baltimore-style Pit Beef ($9), the sandwich itself is disappointing. Here’s a likely series of events: Excited by the “moist and delicious” buzz, you order the Pit Beef. It arrives. You take a bite, acknowledge, yep, that’s a roast beef sandwich, and then regret not ordering the hamburger. If you’re sold on the Pit Beef mystique, a better move is to order the Philly (also $9); the addition of cheddar cheese sauce and grilled red peppers brings a great deal of needed zip and interest.