As I wound my way along Central Parkway to Hamilton Avenue and through Northside, I fiddled with my visor and tried to avoid the early evening blinding sun. Maybe Westsiders are built of sterner stuff: They know how to deal with the sun both coming to work and going home.
At a level spot almost up the hill, The Comet appeared on my left, the neon signs beckoning my car over to the curb. I hate to admit that I feel very conservative at The Comet. I have only one piercing per ear and no tattoos. I don't feel very colorful, but I do feel very comfortable (except for some indecipherable songs from the eclectic selections on the jukebox).
Striding in from the sidewalk, I entered the cool and smoky bar to meet my mate.
There seemed to be a large collection of regulars in the bar and several people in the dining/pool room to the right. We settled ourselves at a Formica table tucked into a dark wood church pew. The walls matched the muted red felt of the two pool tables, with the far wall painted gold with large red geometric shapes reminiscent of a 1960s pattern. More folks drifted in, but our presence goosed the median age up by about 15 years. We ordered a Rolling Rock (mine) and Old Speckled Hen Ale (his) at the bar and grabbed a couple of menus to peruse.
Forget your age, plug the jukebox with your favorites and settle down to eat heartily and marvel at the scenery. The cooler bulges with over 100 different beers, and an interesting selection of draft beers and ales. We ordered our dinners and paid for everything at the bar, walking away with our beers. The routine then required that we take the order slip to the "take-out window" just past the pool tables in the dining room. The brilliantly tattooed attendant took our orders, cooked the food and brought it to our table. So it's self-serve to start and then The Comet takes off.
In a short time, the Salsa Sampler ($4) appeared. A plentiful pile of crisp chips was surrounded by four salsas, guacamole and sour cream. The Mild Salsa was chunky with tomatoes and onions and dotted with cilantro while the Hot Verde Salsa was green with minced chilies and jalapeños, causing a full-mouth burn and a dampening of the brow. My favorites were the Medium Salsa, less chunky but amplified with peppers, and the pleasingly addictive Pineapple Salsa, blending sweet with spice and the noticeable tang of cilantro. The velvety smooth and mildly spiced guacamole was distinctive and a great contrast between the varied heats of the salsas.
The Chicken Quesadilla ($5) was a lightly browned, crisp and surprisingly un-greasy tortilla, folded in half and quartered, glued edge-to-edge with spiced melted Monterey Jack cheese trapping shredded chicken. I enjoyed the Quesadilla but would have liked more chicken. The enormous Beef Burrito ($5.75) included mole-marinated beef layered with black beans, rice and topped with Monterey Jack cheese, wrapped in a soft white tortilla. Even for a hungry carnivore, this was a lot of food to balance in one or two hands.
Regulars advise that the Marinated Jerked Tofu Burrito ($5.75) is worth the trip into the sun, even for meat eaters. I agree.
The Comet, 4579 Hamilton Avenue, Northside, 513-541-8900. 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Daily.