Favorite
Location: 4617 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412-687-8117
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. noon-11 p.m.
Prices: Starters $5-8; sandwiches $7-9; entrées $13-17
Fare: Refined bar food
Atmosphere: Comfortable, casual neighborhood hang-out
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Permitted throughout

First impressions, as we all know, can go either way. They can be uncannily intuitive indicators of things to come, or they can be downright deceiving. In the case of the Bloomfield bar and restaurant Lot 17, the name on the signboard — taken from the auction lot at which the current owners acquired the building — did little to prepare us for what lay within. Far from a humble remainder, Lot 17 is a well-designed blend of neighborhood sports bar, family-friendly dining establishment and community gathering place.

Lot 17's handsome oak storefront is a holdover from the pre-auction days, as is its lavish bar beneath a high, stamped-tin ceiling. Hearkening to Bloomfield's heyday at the turn of the last century, these authentically antique features contribute to a patina of well-aged comfort. The dining room that lies beyond the bar is newly appointed but just as pleasant, with cushy upholstered booths and banquettes behind a glass partition wall, which preserves the openness of the deep interior while admitting as little as possible of the bar's smoke and din to the dining room. Only the oversized flat-screen TV brought a little bit of the sports-bar vibe into the restaurant.

We settled in with a menu divided into the requisite subcategories of pub grub: starters, sandwiches, burgers and a few well-chosen entrees. Yet each of these menu sections also included impressive surprises, including pita pizza, grilled-tuna wrap with mango salsa, and a Cajun pork chop, suggesting a degree of culinary ambition uncommon to rival establishments. For starters, we went with both a stand-by and a stretch: wings and a skewer of shrimp. The wings were meaty, well cooked and crisp but, despite being visibly studded with garlic, lacking in assertive flavor. The shrimp were also beautifully prepared, showing a nice char, but we were disappointed by the "hot and smoky" sauce that didn't live up to its billing.

The Lot 17 salad is an irresistibly inventive creation that any restaurant would be proud to claim as its own: field greens, feta, roasted red peppers, fresh berries and crisp matchsticks of fried leek, all in a raspberry vinaigrette. If ever a salad could be a dessert, this would be a candidate, but the savory leeks and creamy feta created a dynamic balance that kept it safely on this side of cloying.

Next came the entrée sandwich Angelique had been waiting for: Lot 17's salmon BLT. She was impressed to be asked how she wanted her salmon cooked — this was a sandwich, after all — and then to be served an enormous, rosy piece of fish that overflowed the soft Kaiser roll it shared with chewy bacon and garlic-dill mayonnaise. The combination of fish oil (get your healthy omega-3s here!), bacon fat (a guilty pleasure), and egg yolk (it's good cholesterol, isn't it?) rendered this sandwich an ultra-savory flavor delight.

Jason opted for a jalapeño steak wrap, featuring extremely tender, meaty strips of steak wrapped in a soft, slightly spicy tortilla that was crisped on the grill. Inside were also sautéed, but not wilted, peppers and onions, all melded together by wonderfully melty cheddar. Though fundamentally tasty and well balanced, these ingredients still lacked quite sufficient seasoning.

Our sandwiches came with a choice of potato; Jason chose Cajun fries and Angelique, sweet-potato fries. Both were skinny, shoestring-style. The Cajun fries were good and spicy while the sweet potato ones were crispy, verging on burnt, and so hot they melted the butter, delectably sweetened with brown sugar, that was served alongside for dipping.

In the end, Lot 17 serves up plenty of sugar and not enough spice. Neither of us normally reaches much for the salt shaker, yet we found dish after dish to need more seasoning, particularly salt. This was the only consistent disappointment in what was otherwise an above-average bar-dining experience.

Jason: 2.5 stars
Angelique: 2.5 stars

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