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High-end bar food and more at Center City

by Brian Clarey

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Not cheese stocks — cheese logs, made with pepper jack and panko breadcrumbs at Center City Bar & Grill. (photo by Jill Clarey)

I remember this place.

I remember it when it was the Next Door Tavern and I was impressed with the size of the place and the long, wooden bar. I remember when it became Bar Fry, and I noted the creative concept — a menu based on healthy deep-frying along with fresh-fruit drinks at the bar. I remember Rim, the first place I tried lamb ribs, when it existed in this space.

And now here I am again, with my frequent dinner companion, a notebook and a more than fleeting sense of d’j’ vu.

There are traces of all its predecessors at the Center City Bar & Grill: the corrugated steel and magnificent chandelier from Bar Fry, the ruby-red color accents of Rim, even a bit of a party vibe left over from the Next Door Tavern days — as we take our seats, a DJ sets up his wares in anticipation of what I am told is the wildest karaoke night in downtown Greensboro.

But even taking into account all my history with this room, I still have no idea what to expect. Center City Bar & Grill has been relatively quiet on the public-relations front, and I have heard little to nothing about the menu.

A quick perusal of the choices and conversation with a knowledgeable server and we see that the offerings are simple but artful — a slew of bar-type food but made with expertise and care. Appetizers stick to the ethos of Bar Fry. Chicken sandwiches and burgers come in five or six varieties, and there are a couple of hero-style sandwiches, one of which, the ribeye, jumps immediately out.

And if you’re interested, you can order the Bully, a 21-ounce black angus burger topped with three types of cheese for $13.99. But tonight my frequent dinner companion is not in the mood to watch me eat a pound and a half of cow, and we’re content with hanging out and enjoying a couple of Foothills’ Sexual Chocolates. The bar menu is calling our name.

As I’ve mentioned, everything on the appetizer menu is deep fried: cheese logs, green tomatoes, hush puppies (which the menu dubs “soon to be famous”), a few denominations of chicken, fried pickles and hand-cut French fries.

The cheese logs set a fine precedent for the rest of the meal: The fat logs of pepper jack, coated in panko breadcrumbs to keep them light and crispy, are fabulous, though they could do with a better pairing than ranch dressing. And the fried green tomatoes come in a generous stack with a fine remoulade.

And though I’m not hungry enough for the Bully, I could stand a bit more nourishment so I order one of the evening’s specials, a ribeye sandwich dressed with homemade barbecue and topped with crispy-fried shoestring onions. I take a side of fries, natch.

I should say right off, I am disappointed in the fries — I always am with the hand-cut variety. They don’t get crispy enough for my liking, but I honor the decision to run them on the menu. Obviously someone likes them, and for me hand-cut fries are not a dealbreaker. Next time I’ll just order the chips.

But the sandwich deserves a few words: a tender and lean ribeye spilling off of the bun, an exquisitely spicy and smoky barbecue sauce, an inch of crispy-fried onions piled atop. It is magnificent, and I am unable to stop jamming my face into it long after my stomach is full.

After I finish and wipe the smears of barbecue sauce from my face, we allow ourselves to be talked into the one dessert item they still have left: chocolate cake. And you should know that I do not feel strongly one way or the other about chocolate cake. Sure, it’s great because it’s cake and it’s chocolate, but… you know… whatever.

The slice comes out large and luscious, topped with a cr’me infused with the Sexual Chocolate beer we love so much. It is among the many redeeming qualities of Center City Bar & Grill, and one we are eager to sample again.

wanna go?

Center City Bar & Grill 219-A S. Elm St., Greensboro

336.271.4227 www.centercitycafeinc.com

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