Brooklyn music promoter and magazine editor Linyee Yuan was waiting for me at a picnic table on the deck of Saint Dane's Bar & Grille the other day. She was in town visiting her parents for the Thanksgiving holiday. I am pretty sure the main reason she wanted to meet me was to get out of the house. It was a beautiful day, and we both admired the view of the downtown skyline.
Saint Dane's is housed in an old garage. It opens by means of two side-by-side overhead doors, so when it's open, it's really open. The place is named after the owners' dogs, one a Saint Bernard and the other a Great Dane. The management encourages customers to bring their well-behaved canines to hang out there. On several occasions, I have seen a big white Great Pyrenees roaming in and out of the bar. The dog-friendly pub is located where Late Nite Pie used to be, at Elgin and Bagby.
Yuan got a catfish poor boy for lunch. The execution was simple — a nice slab of hot, crispy fried fish was served on a fresh sandwich roll under lettuce, tomato and lots of tartar sauce, with french fries on the side.
Saint Dane's Bar and Grille
502 Elgin St., 713-807-7040.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Fried pickles: $5
Appetizer Sampler: $9
CFS: $8 Shrimp poor boy: $7
I got the chicken-fried chicken, a great big battered and fried meat patty covered with cream gravy that looks just like a chicken-fried steak on your plate. When you cut into the thing, you are almost surprised to encounter white meat chicken instead of pounded round steak. It came with some perfectly cooked fresh green beans and some corn kernels that were advertised to be creamed corn, but weren't.
The most intriguing part of the meal was the appetizer. The twentysomething Asian-American Yuan grew up in Clear Lake, but she had never eaten a fried pickle before. So we shared a "sampler" basket of three fried mozzarella sticks, three fried cream cheese-stuffed jalapeños and three fried pickles. The plastic basket also held a little container of ranch dressing for dipping. Yuan was delighted.
"You can't get ranch dressing in Brooklyn," she sighed. I told her she should carry a bottle in her purse.
The bread-crumb batter on the outside of the fried pickle impressed both of us. It retained its shape despite the fact that the Kosher pickle quarter inside had collapsed with the heat of frying. The battered exterior was perfect for dipping because the ranch dressing filled up the hollow part of the hot, crunchy shell.
I was so intrigued by the fried pickles, I walked up to the service window and asked the cook how he fried them to achieve such a perfect crust. He told me that the bread crumbs were the secret. I asked if he dipped the pickles in flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs — or was there another step?
He looked at me for a second, then he sheepishly admitted Saint Dane bought the fried pickles pre-battered and frozen from Sysco. Sizing up the minuscule workspace where he was preparing the food, it dawned on me that everything Saint Dane's served probably came frozen from Sysco.
As I drove away, I smiled as I remembered the infamous Montrose Diner review ["There's No Place Like Home," May 5, 2005]. In that column our guest critic, Brian McManus, coined the legendary description "fried crap basket" for a sampler of "every fried app the Sysco rep sells." I was embarrassed to admit it was more or less the same appetizer Yuan and I had just gushed over at Saint Dane's.
I puzzled about it for a while. Then I called McManus, who is currently the music editor of Philadelphia Weekly. I asked him if he had ever found himself happily munching on a "fried crap basket" since that review had appeared, or if he remained at odds with Sysco's frozen goodies.
"Sometimes, a fried crap basket hits the spot," McManus said philosophically. "We have all enjoyed our fair share of junk food." But dipping jalapeño poppers and fried pickles in ranch dressing wasn't something he got a chance to do in Philadelphia, he said. He claimed the Philly cheesesteak was the local equivalent of deep-fried Texas crap. "It's a great excuse to eat a lot of grease and Cheez Whiz," he said.
On two previous visits to Saint Dane's, I had a lot of other frozen foods and some good times sitting around on the picnic tables drinking beer with old friends and joking with the waitstaff. The bacon cheeseburger was satisfying, but nothing to get excited about. An attractive waitress named Elizabeth confirmed that the thick, juicy hamburger patty had been previously frozen. The onion rings I got on the side were of the too-perfectly-round variety, which suggested they were out of the freezer too.
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The fried shrimp poor boy was interestingly dressed with nothing but cole slaw. I am not sure if this was because they had run out of the advertised lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce, or if it was a new idea. But the fact is, cole slaw makes a damn good shrimp poor boy dressing. I may try it at home.
One day for lunch at Saint Dane's, I had an excellent chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes, cream gravy and the previously mentioned fresh green beans. (Or were they flash-frozen?) At the astonishingly low price of eight dollars, I didn't really care if the CFS was pre-breaded and frozen or not. Eventually, I came to the same conclusion about the $6 fried calamari appetizer, the $10 fried shrimp dinner and most of the rest of Saint Dane's menu.
Saint Dane's is a great place to hang out with your dog. The crowd is friendly, and the beer is cold. They have amazing daily specials, like dollar tacos on Tuesdays and 25-cent chicken wings on Wednesdays. The marketing strategy is to give away classic bar food that's adequate, but unremarkable at near cost, in hopes of selling a lot of drinks. It's a scheme that's working pretty well, if you ask me.
Go have a fried crap basket on the way home from partying some night soon and see if it doesn't hit the spot.