Atmosphere: Neighborhood pub. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, every day. Price range: $3.75 to $9.95. Reservations: No. Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Special facilities: One step at front door makes accessibility difficult for those in wheelchairs, one booster seat for young diners.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a neighborhood pub around the corner -- a place to drop by for a modestly priced dinner, chat with friends in familiar surroundings, relax and feel as comfortable as being at home?
Not much chance of that when you live deep in the heart of the strictly zoned suburbs, so we went to McGuire's at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Capitol Hill on a recent evening to see what someone else's neighborhood pub was like.
Most of the customers were greeted by name or a flash of recognition by either the bartender, one of the two waitresses or all three. We groped around on our own for a table and spent an anonymous but very pleasant evening at McGuire's.
Holding true to its neighborhood image, McGuire's hasn't done anything special to its setting to attract visitors from far away. The restaurant's interior is dark -- wood paneling for the walls, dim lights and dark wood for the booths and the bar.
A plant hangs in one window, a juke box stands in a corner and a dart board enlivens one wall, but that's about it as far as decor goes. The ambiance is all in the neighborhood crowd of couples, families, groups of friends; easy-going waitresses, friendly bartender -- and the dumbwaiter.
Orders are sent in and food is received from a dumbwaiter at the far end of the room. Occasionally, orders are garbled or incomplete or late and there is much banging on the dumbwaiter and even an occasional appearance of kitchen personnel to answer the call. We knew all the intracacies of the dumbwaiter system for we spent much time staring at it -- there was more than a moderate delay between the placing and the receiving of our order.
The menus -- stacked at each table and printed on bright green heavy paper -- are full of plain and simple fare. In addition, a blackboard hanging near the entryway lists specials for the day. Our waitress, pleasant and friendly but all business, pointed to the blackboard when we asked her what the restaurant's specialties were.
We found out for ourselves. The beef stew, $5.50, a blackboard special, was like a family pot-luck stew that's been simmering on the back burner for several days. The meat was softer than soft and slightly stringy; the vegetables were greatly overcooked but oozing with flavor; the sauce in which the meat and vegetables swam was rich and hearty.
Southern barbecued spare ribs, $5.75 on the regular menu, were glorious. They had been shorn of much of their fat and covered with a tomato-based, spicy sauce that was interesting without being overpowering. The spareribs came with a choice of vegetables and potatoes: rice, cauliflower, spinach, cole slaw, salad, whipped potatoes or French fries were the selections that evening. The spinach, topped with a smattering of onions, was overcooked but well seasoned; the French fries, large, steak-cut with the skin left on, were well-prepared.
Another special from the blackboard, fried shrimp with french fries, $5.50, featured small, breaded, deep-fried shrimp mixed with thinly cut French fries and served in a basket. It wasn't an elegant dish but, for the price, the shrimp were certainly passable and plentiful.
From the sandwich side of the menu we tried a Swissburger, $4.25, for half a pound of meat topped with Swiss cheese and bacon. The burger came on a simple bun and was well-cooked to order. No complaints there.
The vegetarian among us did not find themenu accommodating to his particular needs. Neither filet of sole, $5.95, nor Bob-A-Lou's crab imperial, $8.25, would do. (Nor, of course, would Maryland fried chicken, $5.75.) The waitress suggested chef's salad, $3.50, without the meat (ham and turkey) in it. The salad was a huge serving of iceberg lettuce, slices of egg, lots of cheese, cucumbers, green pepper strips and the like. Not great, but good enough. The best part was the hot rolls served with it.
For dessert we tried two of the specials: cheesecake, $1.95, rich and creamy with a good graham cracker crust; and French apple pie, $1.25, excessively sweet with icing on the crust and lots of raisins mixed with the apples.
Dinner for five came to $30.65 including tax, a cup of coffee and a quiet evening in someone else's neighborhood pub.