by Alice Levitt
1127 North Avenue, Burlington, 862-4300
New North End residents have long had high hopes for a neighborhood restaurant in the space at 1127 North Avenue that's worth opening their wallets for. Cannon's fit the bill for a while, with its fried, pecan-coated chicken. When that went downhill, nothing seemed to please the locals.
The last spot, Norm's Grill, opened and closed in little more than a year. The latest, Smitty's Pub, is the baby of Norm's bartender, Ed Smith. That's his silhouette on the sign. Or Alfred Hitchcock's. Either way, I couldn't help but hear "Funeral March of a Marionette" in my head as I entered the building.
Could Smitty do better than Norm? On first look through the restaurant, it appeared unchanged. The signed photos of athletes are the same. So is the set-up of separate entrances for the bar and restaurant. The menu, with its burgers named for everyone from Big Papi to Danica Patrick, was similar, too.
Though an order of dry-rubbed "Zing Wings" or "Smitty's Signature Swiss & Bacon Dip" sounded good, we decided to go for some roughage with a wedge salad.
Pretty, right? My boyfriend described it as a BLT without the bread. For me, it had a bit too much M, meaning mayonnaise. The veggies sat in a pool of what was billed as blue-cheese dressing but didn't taste particularly cheesy. There were supposed to be blue-cheese crumbles, too, which I wasn't able to locate.
Not a promising start, and I was worried that Smitty's was not that interested in preparing good food.
Then I met the bun at right. The fluffy, egg-washed challah roll reminded me of my mom's. It couldn't have been homemade, could it? My very friendly waitress assured me that it was.
I liked what was inside, too. Named for Larry Bird, the sandwich was filled with tender but toothsome teriyaki-glazed chicken and a pineapple slice, then covered with a lightly pickled slaw of carrots, cabbage and onions.
Sweet and sour worked together nicely, but it was really the bread that tied it together, like a Chinese bun at a tiki party. The fries appeared to be out of a bag, but I still enjoyed them. They were thick and soft on the inside, with a flavorful, probably beer-battered crunch.
It was beer batter that brought me to the dance to begin with. Word has traveled since its March opening that Smitty's is a worthwhile stop for fish and chips. While we weren't quite blown away, we didn't leave disappointed, either.
The fingers of meaty cod were battered in a mixture that included Switchback. The airy but slightly thick coating, fried in places into skinny tendrils, added plenty of fun texture to the planks.
I was further impressed that the slaw was different from the one on my sandwich. This one was composed mostly of cabbage and was more creamy than tangy.
Our waitress smiled when we ordered the molten lava cake. We quickly saw why. While I can count on the chocolate molten cake at Kitchen Table Bistro or other upscale restaurants to be perfectly soft in the center, I often end up with a dry, baked-through specimen at less fancy joints.
This one oozed rich, dark chocolate sauce at first cut and continued to until we devoured it completely. Once again, the folks at Smitty's proved that it's worth paying some attention to detail. This non-Northender is likely to return.