Capitol Hill is dotted with bars and blanketed with restaurants, but seldom do quaffing and dining come together to such good effect as at Stevan's on the Hill.
This restaurant, which was Timberlake's in an earlier life, has been spruced up, but the crowd is as boisterous as ever, and the menu has changed not a bit, thank goodness. For a place that devotes more space to its bar than its dining room, the food is better than you'd expect. As with its predecessor, you can depend on Stevan's for a truly fine burger and a wonderfully homey vegetable soup.
What isn't always dependable is service. While the staff is generally warm and efficient, I was barraged, one late weekend night, with a series of insults from a would-be waiter who was less concerned with doing his job than having a good time. He none too tastefully steered me toward a more expensive glass of wine after noting the house variety tasted like, well, you-know-what. And while we signaled for him to take our orders, he fraternized with customers at the bar. Fortunately, his fellow workers proved more amiable. Unfortunately, we had to endure his antics on a subsequent visit.
The menu is more genial. There are a number of winners among the appetizers. The buffalo chicken wings, for example, are plump, meaty morsels, appropriately spicy and served with the traditional dip of blue cheese. Chili -- served by the cup, the bowl, and as an entree with a salad and bread -- is pleasantly peppery, full of beans and meat. And seldom does one encounter cheese sticks like those at Stevan's, where the cigar-shaped tubes of mozzarella with their golden-fried, lightly herbed crusts are admirably paired with a fine, oniony salsa-like tomato sauce. Indeed, one could easily make a meal from the appetizers and never delve further into the menu.
But of course you'd miss some good eating. Sandwiches, salads and omelettes constitute the bulk of the offerings, although there are usually a number of dinners and specials to choose from.
Burgers come plain, adorned with cheese, California style (with avocado, sprouts, sour cream and mushroom sauce) and rather pretentiously mated with artichoke hearts and a rich bernaise sauce. (If they're not served tepid, Stevan's lightly breaded onion rings provide a perfect match.)
Sandwiches include the usual assortment of clubs, reubens, roast beef, and steak and cheese, plus a few offerings that don't measure up -- cold pita bread isn't my idea of a proper foundation for a BLT. And the great big crab cake on the crab cake platter is upstaged by its accompaniments of cole slaw and french fries. But there's a dash of imagination in even the most simple of ideas, such as a rather good grilled sandwich of swiss and cheddar, plumped with tomatoes and a fistful of alfalfa sprouts, accompanied by a mini cornucopia of fresh vegetables.
Dinner entrees can be less special. The shish kebab, for example, was a decent sword of beef doused with a murky brown gravy and set on a bed of tasteless spanish rice. And the vegetables in the house salad had surrendered their taste to the refrigerator (the cucumbers and carrot slices were frozen).
A waitress singled out Stevan's apple pie as the only homemade dessert, yet it smacked of the commercial variety, its crust unimpressive, its apples canned tasting. A better -- and richer -- selection was the dense chocolate mousse pie, pudding-like and intense. And where would a fern bar be without Haagen-Daz on the menu?
Stevan's can be a great excuse not to cook. After all, what more could you want from a place than a decent meal, a modest tab and a roomful of friends?