328 East Josephine Street
at 281, near Pearl Brewery
In the interest of full disclosure: The owner of this restaurant is a friend of a friend; I've met her probably once (it might be twice; I forget), and I'm fairly certain she is not even that familiar with who I am.
A lot of people — OK, not a lot of people; a few people, with access to media outlets and an interest in the local cultural scene — were incensed when Liberty Bar was forced out of this famously leaning building a while back. The rumours were that the new owner of the building jacked up the rent, that she tried to force them out, that she wanted to put a taco stand in the back, that she was just trying to capitalize unfairly on (a) the newly resurgent Pearl Brewery and (b) the goodwill that Liberty Bar had built up.
I don't know what the truth was, nor do I really care. Despite the recent news from Washington and Austin, I'm still enough of an old-fashioned Republican to believe that a property owner, absent contractual obligations to the contrary, should be free to do as he or she wishes with his or her property, within the law. As I understand it, Liberty Bar's lease was up, and if the owner, who recently inherited the property, wanted to "jack up" the rent, either because the value of the place justified it or because she wanted to do something else with it, she should go for it. If she benefits from others' efforts to redevelop a deteriorating eyesore like the Pearl into something trendy and chic, good for her; if she benefits from the goodwill of her ancestor's recent tenant, again, good for her. She owes them nothing for it, especially in this case: when her long-deceased ancestor bought this property, put up this building, and opened his tavern on the site back in 1890, he named it Boehler's Liberty Tavern (or Bar, or something like that). So if there is goodwill to consider, she is just receiving it back from those who have borrowed it.
Now that the Liberty Bar is (apparently) thriving in its new Southtown digs, and Boehler's has survived its first year, all this matters not at all, even to the people most immediately concerned. I only include it to set the stage (and to say my equally irrelevant piece about property rights).
I hear through friends in the periphery of the restaurant business that somebody with outstanding culinary credentials was the chef at this place, and that either Boehler's lured him away from somebody else, or somebody else lured him away from Boehler's. I don't know; who can keep track of these people? I am proud to say that I am not among the clique that thinks of well-trained, successful chefs as celebrities, even though I sometimes watch the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, and I know who both Alton Brown and Bobby Flay are, and think one of them is interesting. No, well-trained, successful chefs are fodder for the gossip mill, just like every name partner in every imploding law firm, or every self-destructive televangelist, and every schlocky self-promoting probationer in Los Angeles County. Beyond that, they're not really worth the ink they get. So, let's stop wondering who's in the kitchen, and talk instead about what's in the dining room.
The entry is on the side. There's an awning there, to tell you it's the entrance, because otherwise you might think it was the back door. The first thing you see is the ladies' restroom. There's a small patio area out back, and a maitre d's station to the left that you see as you wonder if you came in a service entrance. When we arrived, someone that I'll assume is a busboy took it upon himself, with reluctance, to hand us menus and invite us to sit wherever we wanted. The dining room isn't large, and only a couple of tables were occupied. We chose a place near the street end, but not by the large neon-lined rhomboid windows.
We immediately noted how warm it was in the place. It being a time of near-record heat, and unprecedented strain on the national power grid (not that that has anything to do with us here in Texas), we assumed the owners, in a noble gesture of civic duty, had raised the thermostat to conserve energy. But no, it was just that our arrival had coincided with the demise of the restaurant's air conditioner. It was tolerable, although by the time we left it had grown warmer, and I would hope that by now, an hour and a half later, either the thing's been fixed or arriving patrons are being warned of the impending discomfiture.
The décor inside seems to have been interrupted at some point. There are icicle-style Christmas lights around the ceiling, burned out in places, and a couple of unremarkable wall hangings. The walls themselves seem to have been painted whatever colour was on sale at Lowe's that day; or maybe the owners thought they were going to have one kind of restaurant, then ended up with another instead, and accidentally. They seem to have decorated for the low-end of chic, then decided to go more high-end at the last minute.
The menu, in keeping with the décor, strives to be both haute cuisine and down-home. Either way, the prices seem quite reasonable. The people at the next table were doing the burger thing, and boy did those burgers look good. But I was more interested in trying something a little more challenging than a fancy hamburger. I went with the pecan-crusted schnitzel; my wife opted for the green chili and chorizo meatloaf. Both come with a well-assembled salad (with good quality dressing) and mashed potatoes; hers is accompanied by sautéed veggies, while mine gets a healthy dose of red cabbage. Bread was not offered.
The presentation of the dishes was artful, portending a quality that I was skeptical of delivery. But the schnitzel was excellent. With a slightly sweet sauce, and a full coating of roasted pecans, it carries off powerful flavours with more than a little style, and fully justified the audacity of the arrangement. My wife reports that the meatloaf was equally up to its setting, though I'll confess that, after taking a bite of my own dish, I could taste nothing of hers. Its flavours, against my pecan crust, were too subtle to be discerned. Still, I know her to be a good judge of such things, so I will take her word for it that all the requisite flavours were present and in good balance. I will say, though, that I thought her meatloaf's texture was too reminiscent of purée to be truly outstanding: I could not tell it from the potatoes.
|Last city inspection: May 2010|
A perfect score
The slant of the dining room's walls and floor — the building looks like it's about to fall over, but it's looked that way for decades and refuses to go — gives Boehler's a degree of charm that helps some to offset the increasing warmth, the nè questo nè quello character of the décor, the uncertainty of the staff (an uncertainty not shared, I'm happy to say, by our actual waiter), and the cuteness of the drinks list ("girly drinks" on one page, "drinks for real men" on another). But if I'm to go back (and I probably will), it won't be because the walls are crooked. It'll be because the food is pretty good, the prices are reasonable, and the place, generally, has promise. There are some glitches still to be worked out (I know restaurant people don't like to hear them referred to as "bugs"), but I'm fairly confident that, in a few months or years, Boehler's will still be there to enjoy again. I certainly hope it will.