Sometimes I'm in the mood for a dive with cheap burgers and bad coffee where the waitresses lose pencils in their crunchy hair-sprayed updos. Other times I prefer a night out with a leisurely dinner and pricey food, where the cloth napkin is ever so gently placed in my lap by a waiter or waitress in a tie and white button-up.
What I usually want, though, is something comfortably in-between. Enter Bacall's Cafe.
On a recent Thursday night, my girlfriend and I dropped in to find a full house. We were seated after only a short wait at an oversized booth near the door. The décor was unexpected, an Art Deco dreamland complete with a custom piece of frosted glass depicting Union Terminal and a phone booth tucked in the corner. Classy, but Bacall’s still has TVs on which you can watch the game.
The room was filled with the lively chatter of all types of people. A young family sat behind us. Across the room were a few middle-aged and younger couples. At the bar were some singles, friends and locals. From time to time someone would breeze by to pick up a carry-out order and the friendly wait staff scurried in between all of us.
We wanted to forgo the typical deep fried appetizer offerings — of which there are many — so we chose Garlic Shrimp ($9.50). The six large tiger shrimp were cooked nicely and served in a pool of lemony garlic butter with little triangles of white-bread toast on the side. They were good, but I was hoping for something a little more exciting. Other appetizer options were pretty typical, including the Nacho Boat ($7.95), Potato Skins ($4.75) and a Fresh Vegetable Plate ($7.25).
With soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, pasta and other seemingly random entrées filling the rest of the menu, I just couldn't decide what to order, so I left it to our server to steer me in the right direction.
He suggested two of his favorites: the Gyros and the Jack Salmon sandwich (both $7.95). I ordered the latter, which is actually a fried white fish on rye with tartar sauce, lettuce and tomato. It was very straightforward, but he was right: It was tasty. It was served with a lemon wedge, potato chips and a pickle.
My only complaint — and it's a big one — is that the bread, though thick, was soft and un-toasted, making for a bit of a messy sandwich. I hate that.
My girlfriend zeroed in on the meatloaf sandwich ($7.95) and chose a side of mashed potatoes ($1.95 to substitute, $2.25 a la carte) from the tons of available sides at the same price, including rice pilaf, French fries and onion straws. The generous portion of flavorful, hot meatloaf didn’t disappoint.
What did disappoint was the soft squishy rye bread that didn’t even pretend to hold the large slice of meatloaf, onion, tomatoes and shredded lettuce together. Lightly toasting the otherwise delicious rye would have gone a long way toward preventing our waiter from having to pick up rogue shreds of lettuce from every nook of the booth.
Bacall's menu takes “something for everyone” to the extreme. Salad offerings include a standard house salad called the Café Salad for $4.25 alongside more offbeat options like the Oriental Chicken Salad ($9.50). Dinner entrées come with your choice of dinner salad or a cup of soup and range from Chicken Stirfry ($11.95) or Cajun Shrimp Pasta ($14.50) to Ribeye Steak ($12.95). Of course you can always fall back on one of Bacall's popular half-pound burgers ($6.75) or the (probably half-pound) Rueben ($7.95).
The dessert menu varies. That night, stuffed from dinner, I elected to bring home a slice of carrot cake because I can never resist carrot cake, even though carrot-flavored cake makes no sense when you think about it. I didn't think about it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It had lots of icing and big pieces of nuts.
Bacall's is the kind of restaurant I want to visit when I can't decide what I'm in the mood for. I could probably point to a couple items on the menu with my eyes closed and end up satisfied.
Bacall's has been serving meals and booze to locals and visitors in College Hill for more than 26 years. They must be doing something right.
Go: 6118 Hamilton Ave., College Hill
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $9.95-$14.50
Red Meat Alternatives: Pasta, salads, soups
Accessibility: Fully accessible