I stopped in for lunch at the SideBar Bistro, a legal themed restaurant that opened two weeks ago across from the County-City Building on Tacoma Avenue South. I was impressed with the handsome restaurant with an affordable menu. In a neighborhood with a modest offering of casual, quick eating options, the bistro offers a level of dining needed on that block.
But don’t think of SideBar as a steaks and chops clubby sort of place where lawyers with expense accounts swill martinis and drop $50 on a steak. It's not that at all. Think affordable sandwiches and soups for lunch and economically priced comfort eating at dinner. While it is an attractive restaurant and a martini swilling lawyer may not necessarily be out of place in the adjoining lounge, the lunch menu is decidedly accessible and intended to feed those looking for lunch in the $10-$15 range.
Early on, owners Tom and JoAnna Irick toyed with a more upscale, higher priced gourmet concept restaurant, but scratched that in favor of a more affordable approach. “We’re trying to keep everything as wallet friendly as possible,” said JoAnna a few months ago when I talked to her about the restaurant for this article. “We’ll make it good value for your money.” She’s stayed true to her words. At lunch, the salads and sandwiches are in the $7-$9 range, and soups will set you back $3.45-$5.45.
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SideBar is a restaurant with inviting surroundings – cappuccino colored walls, tall wood-wrapped windows, solid and comfortable dark wooden chairs and tables, slate tile floors in earthy shades of deep greens and blacks, and sweeping Tacoma views make this more than just a sandwich lunch spot. I can’t wait to go back for dinner when the lights dim. I imagine the uninterrupted views are picturesque at dusk. The vistas from the bar play slightly obstructed from a stairwell, but several tables in the dining room offer incredible mountain views.
The Iricks also own the neighboring casual dog joint, Hot Rod Dog, which opened in February. They opened their original Hot Rod Dog on lower Pacific in 2005. This is the first bistro style restaurant they’ve operated.
JoAnna is head chef and menu designer at SideBar Bistro. Nine specialty sandwiches, two daily soups and five signature salads comprise the current lunch menu.
For starters, we opted for soup ($3.45 cup/$5.45 bowl). A creamy asparagus offered a velvety base with the occasional appearance of a soft chunk of asparagus. Chicken noodle wafted of everything that’s good about grandma’s favorite soup. Thick, chewy corkscrew noodles made it a hearty affair. A chunky tangle of shredded dark chicken on top was appreciated in volume, but was clunky to dig under to get to noodles and broth. But too much chicken really is a good problem to have.
Sandwiches come dressed with chips. Sides are a la carte here. We sampled both sides offered on the lunch menu. A red potato salad ($2.95) arrived dressed in a punchy stone-ground mustard vinaigrette and threaded with softened onions that played sweet against pickly bursts of capers. Not a drop of mayo mucked up this mustardy salad. The pasta salad ($2.95) was bowtie lightly dressed with vinaigrette and dotted with sundried tomatoes. Vegetarians beware: pepperoni resides within.
A bacon lettuce tomato ($6.95) came with a choice of bread and we ordered ours sourdough, grilled (there’s also multi grain, white or rye). Our cautious server warned us the lettuce may arrive warm and wilted on grilled bread, how about if the kitchen puts it on the side so it stays crisp, she asked? We nodded with approval. A restaurant that pays that level of attention to detail gets foodie kudos from me. And the lettuce did arrive on the side, and crisp as promised. Chewy bacon and sliced tomatoes stayed neatly tucked inside the grilled sourdough. The sandwiches here came well constructed.
A Reuben ($7.95) was lightly grill-kissed rye, layers of meaty pastrami, sauerkraut with just a hint of pucker (I like mine more sour) and a gooey, oozy layer of Swiss cheese. The promised Thousand Island dressing was a bit different – it was more sweet than tangy and offered no crunchy pickle relish.
I didn’t have a chance to eye the dinner menu, but Irick promised upscale comfort food – like chicken pot pie and pasta dishes. I’ll be back to give it a try.
For breakfast, there is an attractive display case full of pastries. The breakfast menu also offers stone cut Irish oatmeal, grilled breakfast panini, a Belgian waffle, quiche, bagels and grab-and-go yogurt parfait. The breakfast menu is priced $5 and under – a fantastic bargain before a day in the County-City building. Should you be summoned there for jury duty, this is the place to put on your eating list for lunch (or the lounge if things take a dire turn).
SideBar BistroWhere: 1101 Tacoma Ave. S.Phone: 253-572-7227Hours: Open for early morning coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner weekdays. Hours may vary.
Hot Rod DogWhere: 1103 Tacoma Ave. SPhone: 253-572-3647Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-FridaysPacific Hot Rod Dog: 1742 Pacific Ave.; 253-593-6030