At whiningdining.com, we're discussing the great sandwiches of the world. I'm surprised to see that no one has mentioned the club sandwich yet, although I'm sure it will eventually end up on the list.
Let me introduce you to the Amazing Island Club sandwich at Downtown's Bardog Tavern, a spectacular example of what a club sandwich can be. Look at the list of ingredients on this bad boy: A grilled chicken cutlet, ham, fried egg, bacon, provolone and white American cheeses, avocado, onion, lettuce, tomato, and spicy mayonnaise. And it's all tucked between three oversized slices of grilled bread.
It's a divine creation. I'm a sucker for a fried egg on a sandwich, anyway, so I give it points for that (an egg adds a richness you just don't get from anything else). The grilled chicken is an improvement over turkey breast in both taste and texture, as it's generally deli turkey meat on a club and the quality varies wildly.
I won't even guess how many calories are in this monster, but I can tell you that as good as it was, it took three of us to finish it.
I would say Bardog is a bar first and a restaurant second. But you might not notice that from the menu, which boasts seared ahi and clams casino among its appetizers and shrimp scampi, surf 'n turf and cioppino as entrees. The ambience is definitely that of a neighborhood bar, a place you'd like to visit again and again.
Be aware, though, that smoking is allowed upstairs, a drawback for most people but a huge plus for smokers, who have been left with few places to go since the 2007 ban most places observe. It's a shame that the upstairs is also the coolest part of the place, with a huge bar and campy red-vinyl banquettes. Still, the downstairs, which is nonsmoking, is comfortable and a little funky in its own way. Mismatched kitchen or dining room tables with a hodgepodge of chairs are scattered around the room, which houses a small bar. (Because smoking is allowed, no one under 21 is allowed.)
The night we ate there, Justin, the Incredibly Industrious Waiter, was tending tables both up and down, yet we never lacked for a thing. And I never caught a whiff of cigarette smoke once I made it down the stairs, either.
Back to the food. Demitrie Phillips, formerly of Tsunami, Meditrina and Stella, is head chef. "The chef is Greek," we were told a couple of times. Aldo DeMartino, formerly a bartender at Stella, is the owner.
We ordered the cioppino, a tomato-based seafood soup originated by Italians in San Francisco, with reservations but also with hope after being told by Justin that Demitrie shops for seafood himself to ensure it's fresh. "He bought it today?" I asked.
"I didn't say today," Justin said. "I don't know for sure that it was today, but I know it's fresh."
Got to hand it to that kid. I like an honest waiter.
And there was no reason to worry about the quality of the seafood. The shrimp were tender and perfect, not even a hint of being overcooked. Mussels were plump, and generous pieces of tuna peppered the garlicky tomato broth. My only complaint, not shared by my dining companion, was that the broth was too thick. I expected something more like a bouillabaisse and what we were served was thicker, like a chowder. But as the photo taken the next day clearly shows a broth, I intend to order it again. In fact, it was good enough that I probably would've ordered it again, anyway.
Sliders are as ubiquitous as nachos, but Bardog serves up a tasty order. Three sliders, about a half pound of meat in all, are served on soft rolls with oozing cheese and lo and behold, they are cooked medium rare if you want them that way.
Here's a funny aside about the club sandwich. I sent a note to the photographer, asking that he take a picture of the "amazing" club sandwich. I talked to Aldo after the pictures were taken and just after he reprinted the menu. He said our photographer told him he was there to take photos of the cioppino and the amazing club sandwich.
Aldo laughed when he told me about it. "I told him that's not what we call it, but then when I printed up the new menus, we added 'amazing,' " he said.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Address: 73 Monroe
Telephone: (901) 275-8752
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Monday through Friday; noon- 3 a.m. on Saturday; noon to midnight on Sunday. The kitchen closes one hour early each night.
Smoking: Upstairs only
Handicapped access: Yes, both levels
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Don't miss: The Amazing Island Club sandwich, sliders and cioppino.