We have known for some time that Local 188 is an excellent place to drink. Every single cocktail is wonderful. It feels like your grandmother’s house, the one she lived in when you were little, before she moved into a condo, before she became truly old, though you didn’t know she wasn’t then. The Formica tables are so perfectly homey, there should be a deck of cards and dish of hard candy on every one. You sit around with your friends – which is so much better with a group, than sitting abreast at a bar – and talk, imbibing many sidecars, and before long you are drunk and stumbling home. Fortunately, we live close-by. Why we waited so long to eat there, I don’t exactly know. We didn’t want to be disappointed? Our fears proved misguided, once again. We had a great night out in their dining room, and walked back to our apartment, sated and sober.
If you are going to be a grown-up and have only one drink, we certainly recommend the Dropkick Murphy: Jameson and root beer with a Murphy’s stout float. Thank goodness, food arrived almost as soon as we had ordered it or we would have quickly been in our cups. An assortment of olives, lamb keftedes over lightly seared cucumber strips & mint creme fraiche from the tapas list, braised short ribs and house-made gnocchi, and a three radish salad, a special last night. Our tiny table covered in giant white plates, we dug in and began exclaiming over almost everything. Even the bread plate – including a doughy, herby, caramelized oniony square, especially – was delicious. Beware not to overindulge in this, which is my weakness.
The dish of olives could have fed every wedding guest in Cana. I ate every one of the bright green Castelvetrano olives, my new favorite, and not a few Kalamatas, and we still had plenty to take home. Keftedes are, at least here, oblong meatballs made from ground lamb and were juicy, with a beautiful, thick, seared crust, not too rich and complemented by the warm cucumber ribbons and lightly creamy sauce. We each had one and wished for another, which would have been foolish as we had more than enough food, which was in itself extremely satisfying. The salad was good, with bitter microgreens and a buttermilk dressing sparingly used, but the best part was the sugary walnut pieces, nicely played against the rooty bite of radish. I want to like radishes more than I do; I am not, after all, a Fraggle.
My dining companion won the entree challenge this time around. My gnocchi were well-made, but the busy happening of condiments made this dish a bit of a muddle, though one I couldn’t quit popping into my mouth. Let me see if I can elaborate. As potato dumplings go, they were small and light and I would have loved them simply done with sage butter or fresh marinara. I couldn’t quite place it, the sauce was reminiscent of a British-beef-flavored potato crisp, better than it sounds. Weird but good. Then there were barely cooked, chopped red onions, dabs of goat cheese, halved grape tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic across the whole diverse party. Too many textures and tastes, that didn’t quite blend for me.
So, getting back to Malcolm and the short ribs (band name alert!). They. Were. Awesome. Four compact bales of meat, stacked and glazed like an offering to a god I haven’t yet met. Cliched-but-it-must-be-stated, the ribs were fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, with a kick. Our waitress (who was great) was able to tell us that the sauce contained “everything but the kitchen sink” including beer and smoked paprika, almost like a riff on the lowbrow A-1 and cola, but more elegant and completely amazing. I really get a kick out of vegetables, even dabbled in the sort of adolescent vegetarianism that persists among a certain type of girl, but I must say that a life without short ribs would be so much less wondrous.
As is our habit, we skipped dessert, though cookies and milk is such a fantastic idea, coming back around to home, family, coziness. Everything should be shared, passed around, eaten until you are so full all you want to do is recline and watch TV. The dining room at Local 188 has a din, like a cafeteria, as if every table is the kids’ table and all the kids are having fun. There’s art on the brick walls. It’s bright, like the gin mill I used to frequent with my grandfather when I was small. He was a plumber, union man, and steam fitter who drank boilermakers (or was it a boilermaker who drank steamfitters?) so I can’t help but think of him here, too. Local 188 is the neighborhood place I wish we had gone to sooner. Everyone needs a local.