While somewhat camouflaged, The Hideaway also feels utterly at home in its environment, sharing a bustling stretch of road with other funky bars and restaurants, record and video shops and an organic market. I noticed all this when I ran around the corner to the UDF (since The Hideaway has no liquor license, you can "bring your own") to buy a six-pack of Molson's Blue Moon "Belgian-Style" Wheat Beer, which was perfectly serviceable if lacking a bit in personality.
Luckily, The Hideaway has personality to spare. The small cafe formerly known as Potluck Carryout now provides homey dine-in fare amongst hipster garage sale leftovers -- framed string art, velvet Elvises, a JFK throw rug and lots of kitschy Christian artifacts, including those Virgin Mary candles often seen among the flowers and makeshift crosses at sidewalk memorials to shooting victims.
Personally, I like the kitschy, retro vibe: It reminds me of my old bachelor-pad decorating scheme. Even the evening's soundtrack -- a mix CD of "No Depression" guitars and earnest voices -- made it feel vaguely like we'd gone back in time to the early '90s. Except that we had our two kids with us, and they were eagerly lapping up a delicious, hearty Vegan Chickpea Soup ($4/bowl) and Wild Mushroom Risotto Cake dressed with a balsamic vinegar reduction ($5.50).
Our other appetizers were a little less successful.
A Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus Plate ($5.50), for instance, was large, but the hummus wasn't creamy or intensely flavored enough for my taste and the accompanying crumbled feta had a supermarket quality to it. The individual Baked Bries ($6.50) came in three well-sized portions, but the pear chutney and sprouts mentioned on the menu had been replaced by what appeared to be a smear of dried-cherry compote and a few leaves of baby romaine.
These random alterations to what we expected seemed a common theme. For instance, a disappointing Blackened Tofu Sandwich ($6.50) just didn't add up. It was served on a large platter with three heavily salted baby potatoes, a dollop of mayonnaise and a few pickle rounds. While the slab of tofu itself was well seasoned, the whole wheat bread it came on was spongy and bland (a crunchier multigrain would have been better).
Later, reviewing the menu, we realized that many of the dish's intended elements had gone missing -- the promised hummus, tomatoes, red onion and mixed greens were apparently forgotten. No wonder it seemed incomplete: It was.
Maybe the kitchen just made a mistake, or perhaps they ran out of these ingredients. This latter idea isn't so far-fetched. They were out of the Vegetarian Lasagna ($12) and had to run out for coffee from a local market when I later ordered a cup ($1.75). I'll never know if there were any green beans ($3) available, because our side order never arrived at the table.
Fortunately, many of the entrées are easier to recommend. The Beef Brisket ($12), served over egg noodles with a mound of roasted vegetables, was flavorful and deeply satisfying. If not as tender as it could have been, the portion was sufficient to feed two adults.
Likewise, an enormous helping of house-made Meatloaf ($12) was wonderfully redolent of cumin, pairing perfectly with the roasted garlic mashed potatoes and rich beef gravy. And a Cuban Sandwich ($7) was tasty and filling if not completely authentic, served on grilled foccacia with smoked ham, sliced pork loin, melted cheese, dill pickles and whole grain mustard.
Desserts sounded great, although, like the rest of our meal, they were inconsistent. We especially enjoyed the Carrot Cake ($4.50) with its diet-busting cream-cheese icing. The Chocolate Bourbon Decadence ($5.50), a flourless cake, was unfortunately served straight from the fridge, muting the flavors. It would certainly have been better at room temperature, where the dense cake would have contrasted nicely with its topping of fluffy whipped cream.
Although our experience wasn't predictable or consistent, we did have a great time here. The meal was casual, comfortable and a lot of fun.
We felt like guests of an old college friend eager to attempt new recipes and who hastily converted his living room to entertain us. Some dishes worked great, and others weren't as successful. Still, the staff was friendly and exhibited a real desire to make sure we left with smiles on our faces.
If you're looking for honest, hearty food served at extremely reasonable prices and this kind of casual, funky vibe speaks to you, then The Hideaway is certainly worth seeking out. Call me if you get lost. ©
Go: 4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate
Payment: MasterCard and Visa
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty, including pastas, salads, tofu, fish and chicken
Accessibility: Several steps up from patio to restaurant