Address: 1872 West 25th Street, Cleveland OH 44113
For years, ABC Tavern was the neighborhood watering hole of choice for an often rough and tumble crowd. In its time, the bar has seen the success of Garage Bar and Bar Cento/McNulty's Bier Markt/Speakeasy, the epic failure of MODA, and the comings and goings of Ohio City Burrito and The Monastery. Anchored by the West Side Market, and around the corner from Great Lakes Brewing and Light Bistro, West 25th Street was bubbling with energy, though ABC remained defiantly stagnant. Then, West Side Market Café owners Randy Kelley and Linda Syrek entered the picture.
After a sympathetic freshening, the space is airier and better lit than it was. The exposed brick and well-worn woodwork, along with friendly attentive service make it a wholly welcoming space. Diners and dedicated imbibers find refuge along the long bar, or at a smattering of high tables. The crowds are sizable on weekends, filling the narrow space to the brim, and the old school bar bowling machine and pool table on the upstairs loft add a nice touch of Cheers-esque frivolity. A well-curated jukebox churns out the tunes.
With its proximity to the WSM, and the owners' appreciation of ingredients and preparations that don't always involve frozen bits and deep fryers, the menu here is a blessedly refreshing and comforting upgraded pub fare. The menu is concise, with less than a dozen starters, less than 10 sandwiches and a few daily specials, and it works. After all, this is a tavern – albeit a special one.
Where in most bars, one can expect a fresh from the freezer quesadilla, the versions here set the new, well, bar. In the Ohio City chicken design, a crisp though forgiving flour tortilla is loaded with pulled chicken – white meat, dark meat – that has the juiciness only roasted chicken can provide, along with a sweet house barbecue sauce and a pleasantly judicious parcel of sharp cheddar cheese. In lamb guise, the same tortilla is filled with nicely spiced ground lamb from Turczyk's Meats (stand D-11 at the West Side Market, as noted on the menu), feta, spinach, tomato and cucumber sauce. House chips with caramelized onion dip, calamari with chili-lime sauce and crispy hush puppies are among the potential opening volleys.
The Atomic Dog is not for the faint (or medically weakened) of heart: bacon-wrapped, jalapeño-stuffed, deep fried, 3/4-pound all beef dog with sriracha aïoli. For a slightly healthier alternative, there's a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA–battered tofu "filet" topped with a caper-studded tartar sauce. The star here, though, is the burger, which is quickly becoming a signature item, and with reason. Fans of Swensons (and other drive-in, old-time burgers) take note. The ABC Burger is a thin, amply peppered, loosely formed patty, cooked to order on a griddle, topped with crisp shredded lettuce, thick-sliced tomato, gooey American cheese and fried onions (billed as "frizzles"). Add a dash of Stadium Mustard into the mix, and it's a knockout. It, and all sandwiches, come with a generous pile of über slender fries, and there are enough craft brew options to match the menu's broad flavor palate.
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