The bar upstairs at the Brass Elephant is marble with shiny brass railings, and the room's trompe l'oeil ceiling is filled with puffy white clouds in a blue sky. The murals are like looking at VVTC Venetian garden; it's a lovelier view than the cityscape outside the leaded glass windows.
You can sit on the tapestry-covered bar stools or at one of several small tables covered in fresh white linen -- if you can get a table, that is. If not, you'll be seated in the small overflow dining room next door.
The Brass Elephant has always had one of the handsomest bars in the city. What most people don't know is that the bar has its own menu, simpler and less expensive than the one in the elegant dining rooms below.
Here you can have all the pleasures of an opulent setting and a good meal -- for under $10 if you aren't greedy. Yes, there is a catch. The catch is that the bartender does the serving.
That's fine if it's a slow night. But if you're put in the overflow dining room and he's dealing with six tables plus bar customers, you'll find it hard to catch his eye. Especially when he's in the next room.
But if you aren't in a rush and can go with the flow, you can feast on a variety of intriguing pastas, such as the farfalle with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, pine nuts, black olives and goat cheese.
You can start with a suave Italian tomato and mushroom soup or a classic Caesar salad. If you want something fairly light for a main course, you might have a grilled vegetable and mozzarella sandwich on focaccia.
The fish of the day, for an astounding $7.75, might be fresh trout with a silky sweet red pepper cream on a bed of pecan-studded rice.
Spend a little more ($12) and you get a juicy New York strip steak with a winey brown sauce, fresh spinach and gorgeous mashed potatoes. (Not, I should say, the promised potato pancake.)
It's a simple, interesting menu, except for the veal parmigiana and shrimp fra diavolo. We tried the veal, and there wasn't anything wrong with it; but it's not the most imaginative dish ever to come out of this kitchen.
You've managed to have a pleasant, inexpensive meal in a lovely setting, and you're feeling pretty virtuous. If you don't get up and leave now, you'll blow it by ordering one of the decadent (and not inexpensive) desserts.
Should it be the key lime napoleon (the classic pie filling in a puff pastry shell decorated with a profusion of elaborately curlicued sauces and a few fresh berries)? Or the chocolate peanut butter ice cream tart? I think not. I vote for the tiramisu, soft as a cloud, better than sex and with extra chocolate sauce besides.
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Bar at the Brass Elephant
Where: 924 N. Charles St.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, to 9 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards accepted: Major
Features: Light fare
Call: (410) 547-8480