"Uh, is that Russian you’re speaking?”
“Not Russian. Romanian.”
The guy looks at me.
“Excuse me for saying so, but next time you are not sure, it is better to suggest Czech, or Italian. Our language is more like those places. Czech Republic is small like us. Russia is the giant to the north. We all hate Russia. We are more like Mediterranean states. We don’t like being called Russians. And anyway, now I am from Seattle.”
Ho-kay. You can see they’ve had it up to here with being called Russians. He and his buddy return to their sautéed brussels sprouts and beer and get back to watching the Seahawks on the big screens.
We’re in this big half-sunken bar on Orange Avenue. Coronado. The Tavern. Its happy-hour deals sound all the more delicious because it sits right below Vigilucci’s and opposite Stake, and a block from the Hotel Del. All these places, a ten-second nibble’d cost you an arm and a leg.
1310 Orange Avenue, Coronado
The Tavern ain’t normally that cheap either. Ten-dollar soups, twenty-dollar mains. Interesting original drink recipes, though, like a chamomile-tea-infused rye whiskey mule that the bar guy Christo is making right now ($10).
But, atmosphere-wise, it’s more of a workaday tavern. Brick, metal, wood, rough-hewn stanchions. Long bar. And you can see — and hear — this is where the ’Nado sports teams come, like the Optimist Club committees, the school reunions, to let their hair down, but just a little. Club bar, it is; dive bar, it ain’t.
Meanwhile, bar conversation’s turned to Seattle. Mt. Rainier, rain, a late beloved bar called the Blue Martini, another, Joey’s, and other fun places in the 4x4 block where Seattle’s downtown action happens. Oh, and what the original Starbucks up there looks like (“shorter than this counter!”).
I’m here for that happy hour. First, I invest in a Buckler Brew ($5), a non-alcoholic beer (working tonight) “imported from Holland.”
Christo hands me the “Happy Hours” menu. Runs from 3–6 every day. Has six items. Mini mac ’n’ cheese comes with “Applewood-smoked gruyere, aged white cheddar, parmesan bread crumbs” for “3½” (read: $3.50). Mini brussels sprouts with balsamic reduction, shaved parmesan, 2½. Coronado Golden Braised Short Rib Slider (“caramelized onion, crème fraîche horseradish slaw, Bread and Cie brioche bun, hand cut fries”), 4½. Angus Flat Iron Steak Taco (“avocado, fresh salsa verde, cilantro”) 3½. Fresh Mozzarella Bites (“with roasted tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil”), also 3½. And marinated olives for 3½.
I’m impressed. I mean, I know these aren’t gonna be giant plates piled foot-high, but still, for Coronado, prices look supercalifragilistically low.
And, natch, I fall into the trap. I order too much. “Think I’ll have the brussels sprouts,” I begin, “and the slider.” So, two and a half and four and a half makes seven already. With drink, twelve bucks.
Sprouts and slider arrive and — whoa. They’re…small. I mean the plates. At least they’re packed. Half a dozen sprouts shine an evil green and black. Slabs of parmesan cheese scatter like patches of snow across the top. And the flavor is totally great. It’s that sweetness of the balsamic reduction. Marries with the burnt parts and the basic baby-cabbage taste (because mini-cabbages are what Brussels sprouts are, right?).
The slider? I’ve gotten used to getting three sliders in these happy-hour deals. This is a single mini-burger, bigger than a slider but definitely no Whopper. But its Bread and Cie brioche (richer, lighter than a standard burger bun) is soft, sweet, and the meat is almost swimming in a creamy horseradish kinda coleslaw mix that jumps straight into bed with the caramelized onion and short rib. And they make crazy love together between the buns. Lust is the word. Lush is the other word. Luscious is the final word. Or not: the small woodpile of fries is the final word. Nice fillers.
But not enough! I feel like Romeo having to leave Juliet at dawn when the last of the lone slider has disappeared down my gullet.
And this is where I go off the rails. I see I have another ten minutes before happy hour screeches to an end, so I drag Christo back and order that mini mac ’n’ cheese ($3.50) along with the mozzarella balls ($3.50). Seven more bucks.
Long story short: mac ’n’ cheese is good. Cheese nicely toasted. Macaroni has classy double twist. But the mozzarella balls? Tasteless. Even though they come with a decent slice of baguette that’s great for mopping up the oil and basil and roasted tomato mix they’re in. Maybe that’s how they’re supposed to be. But I finally ask Christo for salt. He scoops some out of a box and brings it in a little dish. Helps somewhat.
My Romanian friend looks at my empty sprouts plate. “Brussels sprouts were what our grandmothers forced down our throats as kids,” he says. “We hated them. Vegetables were for girls. Real men ate red meat. That’s how it still is back there.”
“So, how different is the, say, bar food in Bucharest?” I say. Thrilled I remembered the name of Romania’s capital.
“More Mediterranean: pita, kebabs, that sort of thing,” he says. “Biggest difference is that everybody smoked, all the time. But that has just stopped. New law. No more smoking in restaurants.”
Time to go. I’ve overspent. An entire Mr. Jackson has disappeared. Lord. Still, individually, these are deals. The sprouts, and especially that slider, they’re gonna be worth coming back to.
And next foreign language speaker I overhear, I’ll say, “Czech?” Just hope Christo doesn’t turn up with the bill.
1310 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Hours: Noon–11 p.m. (till 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday), happy hours: 3–6 p.m. daily
Happy Hour Prices: Mini mac ’n’ cheese (with gruyere, cheddar, parmesan bread crumbs, $3.50; mini brussels sprouts (balsamic reduction, shaved parmesan), $2.50; short-rib slider (caramelized onions, horseradish slaw, hand-cut fries), $4.50; Angus flat-iron steak taco (with avo, salsa verde, cilantro), $3.50; mozzarella bites (roasted tomatoes, oil, basil), $3.50; marinated olives, $3.50; bar food (e.g., fish and chips), $13; roasted pork-belly tacos, $11; chicken pot pie, $15; ribeye, $32; salmon, $19
Buses: 901, 904
Nearest bus stops: outside (southbound), Orange at Adella Avenue (northbound)