Smart. Owners Dion and Maryann Dorizas have kept the Owl Bar almost exactly as it was in its heyday: the mahogany paneling and booths, the stained glass, the magnificent bar that dominates the room. They had the brick walls sandblasted and the ceiling repainted,but other than that,nothing has changed but the cast of characters.
And the menu, of course. It seems somehow trendier than I remember it, although I can't say for sure. The old Owl Bar had huge cheeseburgers and crab cakes and such. The new Owl Bar has a cheeseburger, sure, but it also has a hamburger with Madagascar green peppercorn sauce. It has pastas. It has Tex-Mex dishes. It has entrees like chicken Veronique, mostly less than $10.
The best food, though, is still the bar food. The bacon cheeseburger ($5.50) was enormous, charred and just tinged with pink. The fried potatoes that came with it were almost grease-free, had a crusty exterior and were hot and soft inside. Fried onion rings ($2.95) tasted as if they'd never seen the inside of a freezer, the hot, crunchy batter surrounding a fresh-tasting onion ring.
This isn't a kitchen that's going to be satisfied with just turning out hamburgers, though. There are little clues: The butter that comes with the rolls is whipped and flavored. Doilies are placed under anything that doesn't move, including your coffee cup.
Alas, more ambitious dishes didn't quite come off, and details were sometimes not attended to (like the wilted red leaf lettuce that garnished everything). Angel hair San Remo ($10.95) involved a huge amount of pasta; shrimp, scallops, mussels and calamari that were all a bit overcooked; and an oddly sweet tomato sauce. Szechuan vegetables ($3.25) had a vibrant, spicy sauce but consisted mostly of zucchini. Clams Belvedere ($5.95) sported a fine topping of fresh chopped tomatoes, garlic and Parmesan cheese but were a bit gritty. Their little container of melted butter seemed extraneous.
Chicken fajitas ($7.95) featured overcooked chicken; but combined with the salsa, guacamole, sour cream and warm tortillas it was good anyway. If a restaurant is going to go to the trouble of making its own salsa, though, it might as well shred the lettuce, not just put unattractive hunks of iceberg on the plate.
The Owl Bar does one thing to perfection. Desserts are reasonably priced and very good, even though they come from a distributor. My favorite was the slightly warm pecan pie ($2.95) but those lusting after chocolate should get the brownie sundae ($3.50), the warm fudgy brownie topped with ice cream, hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. Go for it.
Where: The Belvedere, Charles and Chase streets.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., daily.
Credit cards accepted: MC, V.
Features: Casual fare.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 539-1355.