Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just when you think nothing's perfect....

It was a fine alignment of stars that had us back in the saddle of culinary perfection again.

That's right, I'm talking about Bartlett's Gourmet Grill and Tavern in Beverly Shores, Indiana.

I honestly wasn't thinking about food at all when we set off for the exercise club after work. I was going to put in my 40 laps in the pool, and maybe scavenge the freezer a bit for anything to get by on when we got home, ever mindful of the calories awaiting me on the day that I imagine might be considered a holocaust of sorts by turkeys.

I told Mary I could be interested in a couple carry out items from a couple places on the way home that do carry out well. But there she was, her phone connected to exercise club wifi in the club lobby, in the hunt for something better than typical.

That's when she mentioned Bartlett's.

We'd been there and been wow'd before. But for not a while, through reasons inexplicable. I'll chalk it up to how stuff happens.

Anyway, I knew that whatever was going on there would be quality, and of course relished the thought of the only Hacker-Pschorr tap I'm aware of in this part of the world. But then she said the magic words: "Eight dollar build your own pasta special." And that was that.

Not that I'm a big pasta fan. But I was just in the mood, both for the food and the price. I locked in and mumbled the word 'Engage!'

We arrived lickety split, and seated ourselves at the bar where Kaleigh was poised to serve.

I did my best to not order my pint of Hacker-Pschorr too quickly while perusing the menu. Indeed, the "build your own pasta" option was in play. But the menu had other plans for us. After a few sips of my favorite golden nectar, we settled on a Bartlett's burger with dill potato salad for Mary, and the flatbread special for moi. And of *course* we were going to share.

How do I say this? Perhaps my reference to the "Orgasmatron" in Woody Allen's "Sleeper" (while staring at the cylindrical refrigerator in the corner of the bar) set the stage. Let's just say it felt like one big climax from start to finish.

The burger was fantastic, the meat cooked the way a medium should be cooked, juicy and slightly pink. The toppings actually stayed between the meat and the bun for the most part, which to me suggests a law of physics or two were defied. But I appreciate that. The potato salad was a dill lover's heaven. Excellent all the way around.

But as good as the burger was, the flat bread was all that and more. I'm not remembering exactly what went into it, although Vietnamese spiced pork comes to mind. And there were definitely pickled jalapeƱo peppers, which I adore. But add a heaping helping of the right cheese melted just so, and maybe the slightest hint of barbecue sauce in the meat, and we're talking about it deserving at least misdemeanor charge for coming just a bit too close to pearly gates grade. I mean, no flipping way - it was just plain incredible.

So there I was, initially patting myself on the back for clinging tightly to my latest food reduction wagon of sorts, suddenly and helplessly throwing all calorie conservation thoughts to the wind. We ate everything off both plates but one frightened slice of dill-drenched red potato. I enjoyed two pints of Hacker, and Mary a couple decanters of a fine Chianti. (And, yes, we *will* be there next Monday night for their tap beer special!)

As great as the food and drink was, the intangibles scored major points as well. The ambience was superb at the bar - quaint surroundings lit to perfection. Our bartender and server Kaleigh was an absolute delight, transporting our food straight from the chef's hand the instant it was available. She was fun to converse with as well, talking up a recent beer festival in Valparaiso, and singing the praises of IPAs.

And then there was the magic factor. I'd become quite enamored of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout in the last few months, imagining I was the only one who know about it. Well, lo and behold, I mentioned it to Kaleigh, who nonchalantly said, "Oh yeah, we have that..." pointing to the Bartlett's selection of tap beers. Say *what*? Here I've been drinking my Old Rasputin out of the bottle, and a local establishment has the intelligence and sensibility to serve it on tap!

When I finally awoke, I found myself in heaven.

And so will you. Find a way to get to Bartlett's. From food to people to drink, it's the complete dining package.

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