There's something about Dougherty's that draws a crowd

Atmosphere and prices are equally unpretentious

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

March 11, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Nothing's really jumping out at me," my friend said, as we nibbled our way through a table laden with food at Dougherty's Pub. Everything was serviceable, nothing particularly notable.

I suspect this 20-year-old neighborhood pub's intense ordinariness is the key to its popularity. The place turns into a standing-room-only party nearly every night.

The Chase Street bar, which dispenses very reasonably priced suds, is clearly a focal point, but Dougherty's isn't one of those places that forces diners to eat at tiny round hightop tables. It actually has a row of booths lining one painted-brick wall and perhaps a dozen tables near the front door. The pool table is in a separate room.

We went at lunchtime, when the crowds were thinner and less raucous, though every table was occupied and a few patrons were eating at the bar. Some patrons were in business suits, while others wore jeans and sweat shirts. There was a feeling of comfort to the place, a sense that most of the customers had been there many, many times before.

Even at lunch, cigarette smoke was heavy in the air, and plenty of pints were served. The menu is the same at lunch and dinner - mostly sandwiches, plus a few salads and a changing roster of soups and specials.

One server was in charge of the whole room, so we had to share her attention. Our drinks (soda, if you must know) were never refilled, and we had to wait a long time before she returned for our dessert order. Yet her unhurried demeanor - "Yeah, hon, what can I get you?" - seemed part of Dougherty's stress-free vibe.

The food has an unpretentious quality, coupled with unpretentious prices. Beef and bean chili, served steaming hot, is a meal at $3.50 a bowl. The concoction, rich enough to eat with a fork, is heavy on the beef and light on the beans and is held together by a sweet, thick tomato base. It's served with that staple of unpretentious eateries everywhere, a packet of saltines.

Some dishes were a single flaw short of exceptional. The fried fish in the fish and chips could have been the breakout item, except that it was overly greasy. The white, flaky fingers of fish were sweet, and the batter was pleasingly crunchy.

The burger, another bar-food standby, was cooked to order and sparingly seasoned so that the flavor of the meat shone through. It was served with a pickle spear and a handful of chips and would have been perfection, except for the slice of cardboard tomato on top.

Both items were served with french fries that were inexcusably limp and - odd for a bar - seriously under-salted. I also really liked the tuna salad, which was creamy but not goopy and livened with chopped sweet pickle. I got a platter, so it came with more limp fries, plus some pleasantly peppery coleslaw.

Desserts are housemade. Like the entrees, the two we tried flirted with bar-food excellence, only to be marred by a single flaw. The apple pie had large chunks of apple and a sweet cinnamon taste, but it was served ice cold. And the bread pudding, served warm, had a deeply satisfying, buttery flavor, but its raisins were stale and chewy.

These are the kinds of objections that most Dougherty's patrons would probably find pretentious. When you find a bar that feels like home, you tend to go back, chewy raisins or no.

Dougherty's Pub

Where: 223 W. Chase St.

Call: 410-752-4059

Open: Lunch and dinner weekdays, dinner on weekends

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $3.50-$6.50, entrees $3.25-$8.25

Food: ** 1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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