Restaurant review: Hey Hey Bar

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From the February 21, 2013 edition

If I said Hey Hey Bar was a great place to eat dinner, you’d probably laugh. And you’d be right to — unless you knew that Angela Theado, the talented ex-Alana’s sous chef who used to run an impressive food truck called The Coop, is now in charge of Hey Hey’s kitchen every Thursday through Saturday. This makes for a strange marriage.

Sort of an odd and divey “old man’s bar” (a genre I happen to love), Hey Hey’s been serving German Village swillers since before Prohibition. While it’s undergone a much-appreciated sprucing up — and its middle room is actually a cute dining space now (with fanciful napkins, tablecloths and wonderful “olde” German Village baseball-related historical stuff) — vintage brick-flaunting Hey Hey is still rickety and peculiar. So along with wobbly booth tables, the front barroom’s got: a near life-size baby hippo atop a beer cooler; a “dalmingo” (Dalmatian flamingo); a 250-pound limestone with shamrocks and “Hey Hey” carved into it; and a Tim Burton-esque caricature of Peter Lorre allegedly painted by Humphrey Bogart’s grandson.

Yup, that’s the unlikely setting for Theado’s forceful, soulful and inexpensive food. I suppose I could tell you I have first-hand proof that seemingly unsuited partners can form successful unions, but I suggest you verify this yourself by checking-out hip chowhounds rubbing elbows with elbow-bending veterans in Hey Hey — and digging Theado’s bold (“G-word” alert!) gastropub-style fare.

After ordering a brew (CBC’s terrific IPA is on tap), peruse the little menu and pay attention to the “you-want-’em” nightly specials read by an uncommonly friendly waiter (read bartender). Soups du jour ($2.50) are a sure thing, like an obviously homemade-stock-based Turkey Tortilla. Sorta riffing on pozole, that delicious slurp sporting a fine toasted corn character was loaded with dark gobbler meat and punctuated with cilantro, hominy, carrots plus crispy tortilla strips. Also excellent was a refreshingly harmonious and un-gloppy beer and cheese soup with a piquant edge.

Might as well cop a punching-above-its-weight, vinegary pickled egg too; it’s only a buck and comes sprinkled with housemade celery salt. Theado smartly offers another long-beloved beer buddy — Hey Hey’s famous Sauerkraut Balls ($5). When I enjoyed them, they were crispy outside and mustardy, herby and peppery inside.

Speaking of famous, Theado’s incredible Yak Burger is a mouth-walloping must ($9). Another Coop truck mainstay, Turducken Tacos (3/$8), likewise turns up on Hey Hey’s menu. Blanketed with pickled purple cabbage, sprinkled with cilantro and queso fresco (but lacking any salsa or apparent hot sauce option), they were slightly sweet and also locally distinct. Coop truck fans (an elite breed) will also recognize Theado’s rich and wonderful French Omelet BLT ($7) and her killer (and with a miso-ginger broth plus udon, more Japanese than Chinese) Smoked Turkey Dan Dan Noodles ($7).

Asian accents also graced the earthy, lusty and characteristically overachieving “Daily” Duck Confit ($13). That falling-off-the-bone, dark meat quarter bird was further intensified with shiitakes, a deep and dark jus/broth, shaved Parmesan and extra-crunchy home fries. I loved it, even if a potentially spellbreaking but richness-cutting acidic flourish would have been welcome.

Bright, pickled fennel supplied in-your-face counterpoint for another excellent daily special — a huge and tender, eggy-battered Chicken Francaise Sandwich ($9; comes with a side). This hoagie-rolled winner, which was complemented by an herby green goddess dressing (an old-schooler making a “comeback”) provided just a hint of this enticing operation’s intriguing potential.