Broad Avenue is a destination street since Sam Cooper Boulevard was completed to Overton Park. People who go there have a reason, maybe to get a Broadway Pizza, or to see one of the one-night art openings Hamlett Dobbins has at Material gallery.
Another very good reason to seek out this less-traveled road now is The Cove -- one part atmosphere, one part alcohol and some tasty snacks and small dishes -- the consummate expression of Midtown insider cachet, though it's technically in Binghamton.
People who keep up with local restaurant lore will already know that the effects of the late, lamented Anderton's restaurant bar have resurfaced at The Cove, where they look as if they were always meant to be. The charming paintings of a Spanish galleon and sailors on deck were rescued by Cove owner Jim Marshall
from a 1970s mural made for Anderton's on vinyl wallpaper by Memphis artists John Robinette and Tom Donahue. Donahue, a portrait artist and current secretary-treasurer of the Portrait Society of America, says he used a model of The Mayflower to paint the ship, now adrift in The Cove's back room.
Aside from the mural, which Marshall salvaged last summer from the Anderton's building on Madison, where the temperature without air-conditioning was 115 -- "we pulled it off with our hands; it was a brutal thing, no artistic preservation involved," he recalls -- he also got the boat-shaped bar with masts, its iron chandeliers with stained-glass shades, and, perhaps most important, the restaurant's oyster shucker, Chuck Williams.
Emphasis at The Cove is clear when the five-page menu arrives. Three pages are dedicated to Cocktails, More Cocktails, then Beers, and Wines. A survey of the names and ingredients of the drinks on the first page -- the Sazerac, the Side Car, the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned -- make it clear that a lover of classics was behind this table of contents.
Reader, we did not drink them all. But we did visit three different nights to sample Cove versions of several time-honored concoctions. At the top of the menu, as well as our list, was The Cove Martini, made with Plymouth gin -- Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock and Ian Fleming are cited as admirers of this product of Plymouth, England -- with dry vermouth, a lemon twist and a cluster of wild caper berries, which have a pleasantly briny taste. It was scary how smooth the drink was, and lucky that we could not afford seconds.
The venerable Sazerac, whose inventor is Antoine Peychaud and city of origin New Orleans, is made at The Cove with the highly-regarded Buffalo Trace bourbon, and Pernod, sugar and Peychaud bitters. It tasted alternately sweet, spicy and minty, all good things.
Another of the drinks that had a great sweet-and-spicy fruit effect was the Old Fashioned, which at The Cove is based on, and braced by, Buffalo Trace bourbon, with orange, cherry and lemon twist, sugar, bitters and soda water. Adding soda to an Old Fashioned is controversial in the cocktail world: drinkboy.com calls it a "fatal modification," and the resulting drink a "bourbon spritzer." Marshall is a devotee of David A. Embury's 1948 volume "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks," which does not call for soda, but he also relies on "The Standard Bartender's Guide" by Patrick Gavin Duffy, and "Meet Me in the Bar" by Thomas Connors.
Another night, we had two vodka drinks, The CosmoPama, made with Stolichnaya and Pama's pomegranate liqueur, which provides a pretty garnet color, a tart cranberry taste and must also account for the price of $13. The Memphis Mule was made with Stoli, crème de cassis, lime and soda water. The menu said it tastes like NuGrape soda, which is true. It was easy to drink, but not very interesting.
Since this is a dining review, I should probably mention the food at The Cove. Food was, the owner admits, an afterthought that had more to do with legal requirements regarding the serving of alcohol than culinary aspirations.
Marshall knew he wanted to serve oysters. "I was a regular at Anderton's. It was a comfortable, easy Midtown thing, and we had lost that." So The Cove menu serves freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, as well as oysters Rockefeller, this version tasting a lot like an Italian spinach side dish; an oyster pizza, topped with the Rockefeller spinach sauce, artichokes and bacon; and another casserole called Oyster Mosca -- originally served at Mosca's Restaurant in Avondale, La., outside New Orleans -- which has bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
(I had heard the oysters on the half-shell were too large, an interesting and valid complaint, since more than a mouthful is definitely too much oyster. I'm not an oyster-eater, but the ones I saw looked like one-bite affairs.)
The Cove has no chef, and Marshall says the food is meant to be simple and consistent, made with quality goods from cans and jars and prepared with counter appliances.
So, with our fine Cove cocktails, we had grape leaves with rice, pine nuts and currants -- these had been well preserved and were not soggy -- and hummus, a dish that is easily put together in a blender with chick peas, cumin and olive oil. The plates that had roasted tomatoes and grilled eggplant were our favorites: the Mediterranean Veggie Platter, the Italian pizza with goat cheese on a pita crust, and The Midtowner sandwich grilled on ciabatta. The eggplant was smoky and the roasted tomatoes tasted very much like roasted red peppers.
The best dish we tried was The Cove sandwich, with coppa, sopressata and Genoa salami, provolone cheese and a sort of tapenade of Italian olives.
There is also a completely degenerate blonde brownie, a gooey caramel-ish base under a butter-and-cream-cheese cake-like cap topped with whipped cream and mint leaves. We tried that a second time to make sure it was as unrepentantly rich as we thought it was the first time.
Address: 2559 Broad
Service: Pleasant and attentive.
Reviewer's choice: The Cove Martini, the Sazerac, the CosmoPama; Tapas, The Cove grilled sandwich, the Mediterranean Veggie Platter; the blonde brownie.
Hours: Open daily, 5 p.m.-3 a.m.
Price range: Cocktails, $6 to $13; sandwiches and pizzas, $9.50; tapas, $4.50 to $5.50
Payment: All credit cards accepted; no checks.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Absolutely