Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Cole's: Re-do brings historic spot into the 21st century
I'm glad I got to see the old Cole's French Dip before it was re-done by Downtown nightlife impresario Cedd Moses with a menu update from Grace's Neal Fraser. Two years ago, it looked every bit of its 100 years old, in a cool but dusty way. But Moses was sensitive to fears that he would ruin the whole vibe, and wisely left the front room pretty much the same while subtly spiffing up the bar area. The main difference is that there's no more musty, kitschy back room -- it's now a swank separate bar, The Association, but more on that later. The menu is even simpler than Philippe's, which also claims to be the originator of the French dip. There's beef, pork, lamb and turkey sandwiches for $8; cheese toppings for $1 more, a few sides, and grilled cheese sandwiches for the meat-intolerant. A few German beers on tap are $6 and $7 a glass, and classic cocktails are $10 each. Matt tried the lamb with blue cheese, which is invariably touted as the thing to get at either Philippe's or Cole's, while I had a more purist pork with their spicy horseradish-intensive housemade mustard.Pork sandwich with au jus and coleslaw
What can I say? It's an American meat sandwich -- the meat is top quality, hand-sliced, no fat or gristle, but it's just -- plain, no matter how much mustard you slather on and amount of au jus you dip it in. Maybe it was too close to my revelatory trip to Cook's Tortas, but it's hard for me to get very excited about a pile of plain meat on a bun. The coleslaw side was a healthy portion but could use a bit more zing. Matt is more of an American food fan than I am -- he loved his lamb and blue cheese and his bacon potato salad too. I'd go back to Cole's again with my meat-loving son, and I'm glad it wasn't wrecked in the re-do, but I guess I like my sandwiches with more layering of flavors.
After dinner, we checked out The Association next door. It's dark, cavernous and atmospheric with a '70s feel, not to mention a dj spinning the likes of Elton John and Carly Simon. The cocktail list is full of things like lavender liqueur and absinthe; I asked for something citrusy with bourbon, and the bartender mixed me up a sour with hand-squeezed lemon juice; Matt had something like a mojito topped with a splash of champagne. Served in narrow champagne flutes, cocktails weren't huge but at $10, but seemed like a relative bargain for the quality of the mixology and juices. "This seems like it would be a great place to get drunk," Matt said, and I'd have to agree.