How best to describe Dizzy Issie's, an agreeably ramshackle bar and restaurant wedged onto a corner of Remington Avenue and 30th Street, near Johns Hopkins? Perhaps a partial listing of the decor will paint a picture.
Downstairs, customers will find two extremely worn barbershop chairs, a Charlie McCarthy doll suspended near the front door, plastic hearts dangling in the windows, and Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe. The ceilings are stamped tin, painted a rust color, the floors are gray linoleum.
Up the steep, narrow staircase, a pool table takes up most of the second floor. An old hand-crank washing machine sprouts giant, fake black-eyed Susans. A Natty Boh sign dominates a brick wall, a Budweiser sign takes up another wall. Concert posters in tie-dye colors advertise decades-old concerts for Janis Joplin, the Blues Brothers and the Grateful Dead.
The owner, Elaine Stevens, has accumulated these goodies during a lifetime of living in the neighborhood. She's owned the restaurant - named for a female chef - for eight years, she said.
The barbershop chairs came from a man who cut hair in his house on 29th Street half a century ago; the washing machine is from a lady who didn't want it anymore. Stevens' grandfather owned the now-defunct T and T grocery store, she said.
Basically, Stevens created the bar and restaurant that she wanted the neighborhood to have. (She recently opened a new location at 1003 N. Charles St. - inside Grand Central pub and up the stairs - with the same menu.)
Dizzy Issie's has two dining areas. The downstairs, though smoky because it's near the bar, has more elbow room for diners. Upstairs, there are only two tables. One is large enough to hold a crowd of coming-and-going college students, while the other, which seats two, requires a willingness to lean out of the way or risk getting knocked in the teeth with a pool cue.
With its smoke, its well-worn charm and its mix of college kids and locals, Dizzy Issie's is just about the perfect neighborhood hangout. And the food is a pleasant surprise - very good and very cheap. Though the menu is limited to standard bar fare like burgers and potato skins, the kitchen takes these items quite seriously.
First off, I must rave about the beer-battered cod ($13.95). The crisp, slightly salty, perfectly greasy exterior housed some of the most tender and tasty fish I've ever eaten. It arrived with good-enough french fries and a vat of thick tartar sauce.
A turkey platter ($7.50) was made with real roasted turkey, served on a couple of slabs of bread, with plenty of gravy and french fries. In both cases, no vegetables or garnishes graced the plates.
If all this sounds heavy, that's because it is. One of the lighter choices was an appetizer of mussels in garlic and wine ($13.95), which contained plump, nongritty mollusks in a heady brew spiked with Old Bay and red pepper flakes.
Potato skins stuffed with crab ($12.95) aren't exactly diet food, but they were a pleasant departure from the usual greasy offerings. The skins were crisp and the filling consisted of large chunks of crab meat. A dusting of mozzarella on top held it all together.
Dizzy Issie's even serves desserts, a changing roster of decadent pies and cakes. A chocolate cake layered with cheesecake was a guilty pleasure, coated with a thick layer of ultrasweet chocolate icing. Apple pie, though it would have been better served warm, featured nice chunks of fruit.
Service is as casual as the atmosphere. It's not particularly quick, and sometimes, appetizers arrive with the main course, or even after.
But I love this place. I love that the draft beer is cold and foamy, and I love that you can get a burger for $4.25. I love having to lean out of the way so a guy in geeky-cut black-framed glasses can get the right angle on the pool table.
300 W. 30th St.
Open: lunch and dinner daily, opens at noon on Sundays
Appetizers $1.50-$15.95, entrees $4.25-$22.95
*** (3 STARS)
*** (3 STARS)
*** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)
[Outstanding:**** Good:*** Fair or uneven:** Poor:*