Easy livin'

Eastside Grill at The Barley House offers quick, comfortable food

I still think Randy Newman should have taken home the Oscar for best song, and my opinion was reinforced when I walked into Eastside Grill where they were playing "Good Old Boys," Newman's brilliant album about Louisiana and Huey P. Long, which became the soundtrack for our early dinner. Newman lost out, and there my opinion didn't count, but here I can at least pronounce Eastside Grill a real winner.

The long, bar-shaped space used to be Aransas Pass, a little restaurant with a menu created by Tony Knight, one of Dallas' unsung kitchen heroes. Now, it's an addendum to The Barley House, with the grill running the length of its east side and opening into the larger music club. I liked Aransas Pass, but in many ways I like Eastside Grill even better, though I probably wouldn't say that if Tony Knight had not helped with the excellent little menu.

The walls have been painted deep brick-red, and that about covers the decor, but the effect is cozy and publike, and the menu is just as easily accessible, its well-edited list of sandwiches and full meals allowing you to use this restaurant just as you choose. Settle in for a plateful of satisfying, well-prepared dinner, or stop in for a quick bite and a beer. You could even snack on just an appetizer, if you wanted. The chile relleno filled with black beans is a favorite dish from the old Aransas Pass menu and the chicken quesadillas are hefty enough to make a meal.

We wanted real dinner, though, and were almost overwhelmed by the stuffed grilled pork chop. The flaps of thick, pink meat sandwiched a stuffing of poblano peppers, corn, cheese, black beans, all melded into a savory, creamy blend that combined beautifully with the juicy chop. The little 10-ounce strip steak had been just slightly overcooked, but it rested on a nest of slippery caramelized onions in a rich bourbon-based sauce that seeped into the mound of mashed potatoes textured with bits of skin. Even the side--the kind of vegetable melange that is usually understeamed, underseasoned, and plopped only on the plate for color--was delicious here. The crescents of squash and slivers of carrot were tender but not soft, salted and peppered lightly and sprinkled with herbs.

A chicken sandwich held a remarkably flavorful boneless breast, accented with honey mustard. Words can hardly be found to make a grilled boneless chicken breast sound interesting; you'll just have to take it on faith that this was a good sandwich, worth seeking out.

There's a long list of beers, bottled and draft, and enough wines by the glass for those who don't like the heft of beer with a meal. Most of the food, though, is beer food, not wine food, sturdy and strong-flavored. And in this year of the brew pub, those warehouses filled with noise, mediocre beer, and trendy food, Eastside Grill stands alone--a small, friendly neighborhood pub, where you can enjoy excellent beer and food, as well as conversation with friends. Definitely a lifetime achievement.

Eastside Grill at The Barley House, 2916 N. Henderson Ave., 824-0306.

Eastside Grill:
Chicken Quesadillas $4.95
Tony's Black-Bean Chile Relleno $4.25
Grilled Pork Chops $9.50
Grilled Strip Steak $11.95
Barley Bird $5.

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