I've always had a weakness for good bar food. In fact, I can't drive through Glendale without diving in to the Friendly Stop for a garlic burger and onion rings. But as bad as my breath smells after that little treat, it's nothing compared to the stink on my clothes and hair. Cigarette smoke -- yuck.
Of course, that was before Ohio went smoke-free. I haven't been back to the Friendly Stop yet, but I visited Maribelle's Tavern in the East End and left there smelling like a rose.
Maribelle's is newly opened in a renovated space that formerly held the Du Drop Inn. It is beautiful! My architect friend appreciated the bright, well-designed space, and I loved the clean air and pottery-barnish décor. I love the idea of a tavern where you can eat a meal without worrying that the person at the next table is about to light up. Thanks, Ohio.
The irony, it turns out, is that Leigh Enderle, proprietor of Maribelle's, was planning to make her place smoke-free before the new law passed. She thought it might give her a unique competitive advantage, and I agree.
Fresh air and fresh food -- two tastes that taste great together. Maribelle's has both, as well as respect for the history of its East End location. Enderle came up with the Tavern's unique moniker as a tribute to a lady named Mary who grew up in the neighborhood and tended bar at the Du Drop and its previous incarnations for about 40 years. The second half of the name honors Verdin Bells, just across the street.
Maribelle's is in the heart of the "new" East End, a neighborhood that's undergone dramatic change in the past 10 years. There are tables as well as bar seats on the first floor, but we went around the bar and up the stairs to the spacious second floor, where we sat in the front room under a sunny window with a bit of a river view.
We started our lunch with a bowl of fresh Butternut Squash Soup ($4), rich with herbs and garnished with cilantro sour cream, and a Crabmeat Stuffed Portabella Mushroom ($7) served with homemade basil aioli. The stuffed mushroom was a chef's special, but there are Crab Cakes ($8) on the regular menu with that same yummy aioli. I'll either go for those next time or for some wings ($8) with "hellfire" sauce. Damnation, that sounds good.
Traditional tavern fare on the menu includes build-your-own burgers ($8), but there are lots of surprises. A "Grown-Up Grilled Cheese" ($8) caught my eye -- goat cheese and caramelized onions -- and our perky server suggested the Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia ($14) with roasted tomato cream sauce. But I decided to opt for a blue-plate lunch of Meat Loaf ($12) with mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day, simple steamed broccoli. I was a little bit afraid when I saw the meat loaf was a patty and not a traditional slice, since the loaf shape tends to keep meat loaf moist. But I wasn't disappointed in the flavor, and the homemade mashed potatoes were delicious.
My friend was more adventurous, opting for a salmon sandwich ($8) from the daily specials list -- a nice, flaky filet served on a burger bun with iceberg lettuce and sweet chili mayo. The "Asian slaw" was quite surprising -- we expected sesame oil on shaved coleslaw, but this was a complex, spicy kimchee that was very good. Other unique sides ($2) include roasted sweet potatoes and spicy tavern fries.
Everything on the all-day menu is made in-house, including desserts ($6). We shared a few bites of carrot cake before we got too full, and even though the icing was a little too sweet I loved the moist, rich cake. If I'd noticed the espresso machine on the way in, I'd have had a latte ($4) as well.
Enderle describes herself as a "picky eater" who welcomes special orders and substitutions. Her goal is to serve upscale comfort food in a "cool" atmosphere "I love the late-night, fun side of a bar, but not the greasy, heavy food. We've got some healthy choices in the mix."
Maribelle's plans to open an outdoor patio this spring and currently serves meals until 9:30 or 10 p.m., depending on the night, but Enderle hopes to offer munchies until closing soon. With a population boom nearby as well as high visibility to East-side commuters, Maribelle's should attract a crowd -- and they can breathe easily inside. ©
Go: 2062 Eastern Ave., East End
Hours: Food served 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. SundayThursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. FridaySaturday. Bar is open until 1 a.m. Closed on Mondays.
Payment: American Express, Visa, MasterCard
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, veggie and fish dishes
Accessibility: The lower level is fully accessible, but the second floor is not.