Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m-2 a.m.
Prices: Sandwiches and appetizers $6-8; entrees $10-21
Fare: Updated traditional
Atmosphere: Laid-back Victorian
Liquor: Full bar
When it's time to eat, drink and be merry, it's time to head to the South Side. Of all our fair city's commercial districts, East Carson Street offers the most extensive variety of restaurants and watering holes. The only thing is, most places are one or the other: a bar where you can get some fried nuggets to leaven your beer, or a restaurant where you might enjoy a staid bottle of wine with dinner. Few places attempt to serve both clienteles, and serve them well.
But one newcomer to the scene, The Bridge, is the kind of grown-up eating and drinking establishment we're more used to seeing Downtown. With a handsome bar on one side of the room and a white-tablecloth dining room on the other, The Bridge accommodates meeter-uppers and sit-down diners with equal aplomb. Exposed brick columns, a high pressed-tin ceiling and a Victorian burgundy-and-gold paint scheme provide a warm backdrop for prints of old bridges, sustaining the theme suggested by the Birmingham Bridge outside the front door, and wine bottles arrayed decoratively on shelves invite patrons to loosen their neckties. If The Bridge were a day of the week, it would be casual Friday -- eminently comfortable, but pressed and presentable.
The menu, similarly, is best described as updated traditional. The kitchen serves up meat, seafood and pasta in conventional preparations that rise above the ordinary through skilled attention to detail. Chef Darrell Barnes takes pride in a personal touch, and it's clear that The Bridge is endeavoring to distinguish itself through food, not gimmicks.
Off the appetizer list, seared filet in lemon-horseradish sauce looked irresistible, and it lived up to its promise: fork-tender slices of peppered beef, drizzled with a light yet potent sauce of sharp horseradish and bright lemon, neither predominating. Another seared appetizer, scallops this time, arrived on a drizzle of black bean coulis, an intriguingly earthy sauce that complemented the sweetness of the shellfish without distracting from its firm texture. Jason thought the large sea scallops could have used a higher flame and quicker cook, but both of us liked the simple accent of wilted spinach in the center of the plate, its vegetal flavor a welcome balance to the stronger notes of the scallops and beans.
When offered a choice of soup or salad with her entrée, Angelique usually opts for the latter, especially in the heat of summer. But The Bridge's soup of the day -- roasted tomato-beef -- sounded tempting enough to make her play against type this time. When the cup arrived, it contained a deep, dark intense concoction that seemed to be the very essence of its two main ingredients, the rich roasted flavor subtly enhanced by little more than a sprinkling of salt.
The pork chop with apple brandy is actually made with pork medallions, but either way it was a winning preparation, with the subtly sweet sauce soaking into a light flour crust around the firm, moist meat. The sauce also complemented the garlic mashed potatoes, which were on the smoother side of chunky and had their own complex flavor that hinted at more than just garlic.
Angelique's entree, Cajun swordfish, consisted of a generous steak, dense and meaty, crusted with a spicy seasoning mix that would have overwhelmed a more delicate fish. A fresh, tangy salsa offered a cool counterpoint which should have been uncomplicated but featured an odd note -- it tasted like dried oregano -- which gave the entire thing the incongruous suggestion of spaghetti sauce. A bed of risotto had good creamy flavor but a slightly dry texture, and was accompanied by a heaping serving of well-buttered green beans.
We were both pleased with our entrees, but a companion's basil chicken with artichokes was the hero of the evening. Pounded flat but still substantial, the meaty breasts were grilled to perfection, and the sauce, which combined roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and plenteous strips of aromatic basil, was well balanced and rich.
In addition to food and drink, The Bridge offers various other enticements: live jazz on Tuesdays, an upstairs patio on weekends. These are nice, but on their own might not be enough to set The Bridge apart on crowded East Carson. Admirably, the owners have decided to try old-fashioned good food, and it just might work.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3 stars