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Pub Grub

Is bar food edible if you're not drunk?

Is it something in the alcohol that makes drinkers happily consume mediocre food? Sure, I remember when I used to drink and I'd eat Vienna sausages without making a face. But I always did things to excess.

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I assume most people don't. I assume they have a couple of beers, like Wayne. So I don't get why they turn into happy piggy eaters in pubs. We visited two last week, Steinbeck's Oyster House (659 East Lake Drive, 404-373-1116) and Milltown Tavern (180 Carroll St., 404-827-0434).

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The first, Steinbeck's, is located in hip Oakhurst. The look of the place is unique. A weirdly heavy wrought iron black fence that would look perfect in a video featuring sadomasochistic sex play encloses the patio that fronts the pub. Inside, it's all stools and high tables. Dark reds, brick and heavily carved cabinets further stimulate your inner goth. Maybe it's just me.

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The best part of the menu is surely the low-priced oysters on the half-shell. Available the night of our visit was a dozen Apalachicolas for only $8. They were served on ice with plenty of lemon, cocktail sauce and extra horseradish. True, I'd say about a third of them were not primo quality, but the good ones were plump and fresh enough to cool your pervy goth fantasies like a nighttime sea breeze. Our server said the type of oyster offered changes occasionally. There are also steamed oysters, Oysters Rockefeller and boiled shrimp.

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Wayne ordered a starter that I just don't get. Homemade potato chips. OK, fine, but they were heavily layered with blue cheese dressing, making me think of potato nachos. Some diced tomato with scallions helped break up the relentless fatty flavors, but I nearly spit out my tonic water when the server said she was trying to convince the chef to add bacon to the dish. Oy!

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Entrees were better. Wayne's halibut, in fact, was cooked just right between thin layers of browned potato. I found the lobster cream sauce needlessly rich, but the kitchen here really seems to like fat. Some sauteed veggies complemented the fish.

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I ordered the misspelled crawfish etouffee. I don't know why, but I can't seem to find an etouffee in town that features the kind of seasonings I like in the roux. That's not to say Steinbeck's version — a huge portion for $10.50 — isn't tasty, if a bit soupy. I leave it to experts in New Orleans cuisine to judge it.

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We asked about desserts but none were available that night.

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Milltown Tavern is located in Cabbagetown. Parking on Carroll Street, the commercial drag there, has become something of a nightmare because of the opening of several restaurants and bars.

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I'd call this pub "the Earl light." It is not a funky performance space for rock bands, as far as I know, and its jukebox doesn't measure up to the Earl's magnetizing mix. Further, the crowd seems less pierced and tattooed than the Earl's. I don't think our server even had an eyebrow piercing.

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The food is typical pub fare. Wayne ordered a starter of the usual hot wings with celery and blue cheese dressing. They're as good as they get, but I'm no connoisseur. I can get into wings even without drinking but I usually end up feeling like a prehistoric creature that has exhausted itself picking flesh from the thousand little bones of a gigantic bat. Oh, well, it's not as bad as eating chicken feet at dim sum.

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Wayne's entree frankly made me queasy. I believe we used to call it "shit on a shingle." It was two slices of very thick toast topped with chipped corned beef in white gravy. It was accompanied by a little bowl of buttered sweet peas. The sight of it made me think of Baby Jane Hudson uncovering some horror she'd prepared for sister Blanche's dinner. "You don't getcha din din cuz ya dint eatcha shit on a shingle, Waynester."

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Wayne's evaluation: "It's pretty good." That, I swear, is what only two beers can do.

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My own choice was the Milltown burger, a half-pounder of Angus beef on a Kaiser roll with Muenster cheese, bacon, tomato-caper relish and fresh spinach leaves. The spinach is a nice touch, but it adds nothing, lacking the crispness of plain iceberg lettuce. Otherwise, the burger was terrific.

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It's a congenial space, honestly. I'm just jealous because I can't swill booze, scream "Go Braves" and play Metallica on the jukebox. OK, I didn't hear any Metallica.

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Back to Piebar

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The traffic at Piebar on Monroe Drive has finally declined and it's much easier to get a table at Bob Amick's loving restoration of this former bank building famous for its circular shape and Jetson architecture.

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My friend Jeff Boyle had never eaten there, so we visited for dinner a recent Sunday. I'd not been since the place opened and was happy to see that chef Melissa Fedorko has toned down the menu, though there are still some oddities, like a pizza topped with shrimp, cheddar grits, pineapple and cilantro. Actually, I hear it's not bad, but I know a lot of practical jokers.

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My favorite dish we sampled was the simplest: proscuitto with deliciously ripe, paper-thin slices of honeydew melon and cantaloupe. Deviled eggs stuffed with smoked salmon and anointed with arugla oil were yummy, as were fluffy, fried polenta sticks with sun-dried tomato aioli.

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Of pizzas, Jeff ordered the better choice: a simple one with cherry tomatoes, melting heaps of fresh mozzarella and basil. My own — pancetta, asparagus, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar — was surprisingly mild, almost flavorless.

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The only loser was dessert — warmed chocolate sour cream pudding with espresso gelato and candied oranges. The bowl was a mess of melting ice cream by the time it got to the table and the pudding is another variation on the warm, flourless chocolate cakes that need to be retired from menus for a decade.



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