Small Bites

There are a thousand different kinds of bars in the world, just as there are a thousand different kinds of women, and for every different kind, there's going to be a man who loves them. Personally, I like a bar with some character. I have no use for the hip, flashy young ones with swank addresses, and I'm intimidated by the neighborhood dives known by every fella in town. While I'll always have a soft spot for the squalid, rough-and-tumble punk joints of my misspent youth, these days I like saloons that have been around a while. The ones that have a few scars in the hardwood and know what's what.

Main Street Tavern, which is attached to Opus (see review, page 67), is a bit too virginal for me, but that's one of those characteristics that never last long. The floors are bright with unscuffed polish, the windows clear, the walls hung with beer mirrors and liquor signs that haven't yet taken on that sepia-toned dimness of age and experience. The place radiates warm, guileless good cheer, but there's nothing beneath it. No depth. No history.

That's understandable, though, considering the bar has been open for only a few months. The solid left flank of Michael Long and company's three-pronged attack on the Littleton restaurant scene, Main Street Tavern has put together a bar menu that takes advantage of the talents in the kitchen next door. Want a salty snack to go with that longneck? How about "happy dragon" popcorn, freshly popped and tossed with a spicy chile butter, scallions and black sesame? Main Street also serves a grown-up version of the humble fried-mozzarella appetizer, wrapping the cheese in thick prosciutto and fresh basil leaves, then enclosing it all inside a perfectly browned crisp pastry skin, with a garlic-heavy roasted-tomato concassé on the side.

Also on the menu are three pizzas -- a standard tomato and three cheese with provolone, mozzarella and Asiago, available with Colorado buffalo pepperoni; a grilled veggie caponata; and a crab and artichoke with herbed goat cheese and tomato that I'm drooling just thinking about. Main Street offers sandwiches, too, including one of the best steak sandwiches I've found -- a big whack of marinated, grilled beef that had to be at least a half-inch thick, smothered in caramelized onions and cheese, on good bread, with a horseradish cream sauce on the side. The meat was so tender you could actually take a bite without pulling the whole steak out of the roll, and it had been nicely worked over with spices, giving it a salty, garlic and crushed-red-pepper sting.

Main Street makes its own potato chips -- and I think maybe the kitchen should stop. They were thick-cut, overcooked and greasy, with a charred aftertaste and no real crunch. I had a split opinion on the Rocky Mountain Red Ale and cheddar chowder, enjoying the first two spoonfuls a lot and the rest not at all. At first the sour beery taste worked well with the sharp cheddar, but in the end, the potato-and-bacon half of the chowder just couldn't compete against the cheese-and-beer half. I was left with the impression that someone had just squirted a whole can of Cheez Whiz into my pint and made me drink it.

Overall, though, this is a mature bar-food menu. Several steps above bowling-alley cheese fries, more dignified than jalapeño poppers to soak up your Jell-O shots, and certainly better than the deep-fried cookie-cutter mush slapped down at your neighborhood Jack McSlappetty's Good Time Bar and Grill. Main Street Tavern may still be just a kid -- a charming girl, innocent and ingenuous -- but age comes even when you don't want it to. She'll be a good bar once she grows up a little. And when she does, I'll be waiting.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan