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Dining: Nailed

West Chester pub has the formula without the wait

By Annie McManis · June 7th, 2001 · Dining
As fast as Cincinnati's northern neighborhoods are developing, their rural, friendly, neighborhood ambience is disappearing. Although national chain restaurants have sprung up throughout Mason and West Chester like dandelions in a wet May, the booming population has created a dining nightmare for families trying to find a decent meal without a wait, especially on a weekend evening. Fortunately, a few neighborhood dining spots -- where the food is good but reasonably priced and the wait is short -- remain well-kept secrets. The Crooked Nail Pub is one of them.

It's easy to drive right by the nine-month-old pub if you've never been there. That's probably why we could get a table for four at the peak dinner hour on a recent Saturday night. It sits back off the road adjacent to a florist along West Chester's busy Cincinnati-Columbus Road (Route 42), a continuous line of retail strips, and various businesses intertwined with older homes and neighborhoods. Only a small, inconspicuous -- and easy to miss -- sign at the road's edge marks its presence.

Inside the typical pub décor (i.e., wood paneling and Guinness beer advertisements) provides a cozy, comfortable and familiar feel. The pub is divided into two dining rooms, each dotted with two-, four- and six-top tables. There's a small bar area at the entry. The little nook where we were seated in the first dining room was converted to a makeshift stage-area for an acoustic guitarist once we paid our bill.

But we were never rushed. Although our server seemed to be a little in the weeds, her friendly and accommodating attitude made up for her occasional inattention. She graciously took our drink orders, and hurried to put in our appetizer requests so we could get the $1 off happy hour price break before the 7 p.m. deadline.

The menu is a combination of English pub fare and bar food, nothing unusual, but easy on the wallet.

The appetizers include the same list found at the national chain restaurants -- Potato Skins ($5.95), Fried Mozzarella Cheese Sticks ($4.95) and Chicken Tenders ($5.95). A variation on skins -- one made with chicken, bleu cheese and bacon ($6.95) -- and Grilled Perogies with Cheese ($5.95) are the only unique selections for starters. Our Crooked Chicken Quesadilla ($5.95) was a good one -- oversized tortilla stuffed with chicken, cheese, sautéed onions, tomatoes, salsa and sour cream. A better salsa instead of the ketchup-like canned stuff served with it would have made it stand out more. Pass on the basket of Buffalo Wings ($6.95 for 13). My husband, a wings junkie, found them soggy and bland.

Sandwiches make up the lunch choices, as well as half the dinner selections. Our server recommended the pub's self-proclaimed Famous Fish Sandwich ($6.45), described as authentic, British beer-battered cod served with fries, among other choices. An Open-Faced Corned Beef Reuben ($6.45) and a Bar-B-Que Pulled Pork Sandwich ($6.65) round out the list. My husband's Cajun Chicken Breast Sandwich ($6.45) -- grilled, topped with melted mozzarella, and nestled on a toasted, fresh Kaiser bun -- was served in a basket full of delicious, fat little potato wedges.

The House Specialties (served after 5 p.m.) include a house salad or coleslaw. Anymore, it seems like a typical house salad consists of a "spring mix" or "bitter greens" -- choices that would have seemed out of place at this simple pub. The fresh, crisp iceberg lettuce in the Cooked Nail's version was perfect, tossed with diced red onion and shredded mozzarella and served with the house's honey balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Whenever I can, I order fish and chips. Although I have my favorite here in town (Nicholson's), I'm constantly ranking the runner-up choices. The Crooked Nail's Fish & Chips Dinner ($8.95) was served in a basket and with the same tasty potato wedges mentioned earlier. The two large pieces of cod were good: very moist, lightly battered and just slightly greasy -- enough to add a little flavor. Some lemon wedges and better tartar sauce (not the bland canned stuff) would have boosted the ranking even more.

Our friend recommended the Shepherd's Pie ($7.95), a huge plate full, topped off with the pub's homemade mashers and melted cheddar cheese. Her husband's Broiled Filet of Salmon ($10.55), cooked with lemon and olive oil and served with a baked potato, also looked tasty. He was satisfied with his meal as well.

For desserts, stick with the two that are homemade: the Bread Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce ($4.25) or the Upside Down Banana Cream pie ($3.95). We shared the "pie" between four of us, with some to spare. It consists of a plate filled with sweet graham cracker crumbs, topped with a tasty banana cream pudding, surrounded by fresh sliced banana, with whipped crème and caramel.

Even though we were allowed to linger over our dessert (which included a few Guinness drafts), we were still in and out in under two hours. With its friendly service, good food, little-to-no wait and an inexpensive final bill, the Crooked Nail Pub seems to have all the makings for a successful neighborhood pub. ©

Go: 9303 Cincinnati-Columbus Road. (Route 42), West Chester, Ohio

Call: 513-755-7800

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday Noon-1 a.m.

Prices: Reasonable

Payment: Major credit cards.

Red Meat Alternatives: A few non-red meat options, including meal-sized salads, fish & chips, Grilled Chicken and Broiled Salmon. Other than a house salad, strict vegetarians are out of luck.

Other: Outside tables in cooperative weather. Carryout available. Live entertainment most weekends.



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