When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Neatly's (located inside The Bar)
Location: 3174 East Indian School Road
Open: Less than three months
Eats: Elevated bar grub
What does the perfect neighborhood bar look like?
If your version involves Motown music playing on full, joyous blast; friendly bartenders slinging drinks from a well-rounded beer and wine menu; a Big Lebowski art print hanging behind the bar; and food options that remind you of your favorite late-night food truck, The Bar was made for you.
The Bar, which opened back in early December, is a small watering hole in a strip mall near 32nd Street and Indian School Road. Owner Michael Withey, a local lawyer and a Midwest native, wanted the space to evoke the kind of laid-back, unpretentious spots you might find back in Michigan.
Behind the plain white door that serves as the front entrance, you'll find a long, narrow room lit up with multicolored strings of light, lots of happy chatter, and the aforementioned Motown tunes. There are a handful of booths, framed by a yellow sign with a memorable Hunter S. Thompson quote that's immortalized in neon script ("When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro").
There is also a colorful lounge area where a projector plays movies, plus four TV screens behind the bar, if your aim is to watch the big game of the day.
Neatly's, which is basically composed of an order window and a small kitchen, comes from the folks behind The Stand, Arcadia's popular hamburger and taco joint. Ron Ingram, one of the owners of The Stand, says that the original Neatly's concept was designed as a food truck idea. But when Ingram was approached about providing food for The Bar, the Neatly's food truck concept felt like the right fit.
Many of the dishes on the small, nine-item menu are pressed (sandwiches) or folded (the house pork quesadilla), a fact that's captured in the restaurant's tagline: "Ironed/Pressed/Folded."
Perhaps the most popular menu item is the order of Ironing Board Sliders. An order comes with three small but sturdy sliders, which are served on buttery, crisp sourdough bread, with the crust generously removed.
There's something about removing the crust that amplifies the texture, and the slim beef patties are nicely flattened out and seared. The small burgers are dressed in The Stand's homemade Stand sauce, which may remind you of a livelier, creamier version of McDonald's iconic special sauce. They are very good sliders, just the thing you want to pair with a pint.
The fries are great: salty, a little crisp at the edges, and best enjoyed right away. A high-caloric mass of ground beef, barbecue pork and melted cheese glues everything together, and the dish is garnished with a nice scattering of grilled onions, chopped scallions, and a drizzle of that rich, tangy Stand sauce. It makes for a group-friendly culinary nightcap, an ultra-savory treat before you call it a night.
Where would a bar menu be without some killer wings? The ones served at Neatly's are pretty great: spicy, boneless, extra-meaty. Even if boneless wings aren't your thing, you might still appreciate the thick, tangy-spicy sauce on these.
Neatly's is such a refreshing change of pace from standard bar fare, it sometimes feels like a pleasant mirage that has materialized after a night of too much drinking. But it's very real, and you barely have to leave your bar stool to enjoy its small bounty of elevated bar grub. The Dude himself would approve.