Restaurant review: Renovated Bodega is built for fun, not comfort

From the July 17, 2014 edition

Inspired by a month of I-miss-it-already World Cup soccer, when presented with my bill at Bodega, I flopped. It didn’t work.

So after “coming to,” I coughed up 19 bucks for my smoked-then-fried chicken dinner — which, considering it fed three, was actually a bargain. Welcome to the new, even-hipper Bodega.

Reopened in May after a protracted renovation, this booze-and-chicken-specializing Bodega isn’t built for comfort, it’s built for increasing business. Fortunately, its business is “fun.”

So if you don’t mind overtaxed air conditioning, teeming and noisy crowds, backless metal stools, limited seating at communal tables, DIY water, ordering drinks from the bar and re-lining up at another counter to get your grub food truck-style (don’t expect plates) … well, you can have fun.

Smiles start with Bodega’s BIG CITY-sophisticated ambiance — you’re in Zeitgeist Central, after all. Expect burnished and burned-looking wooden tables, brick walls, white tiles, a long handsome bar, black pressed ceiling, sports on TVs, garage doors, craft taps galore and music edgier than any eatery in town (here, “golden oldies” means Ray Charles, but also brilliant vintage bands like Stereolab and Wire).

The good times keep rolling with Bodega’s terrific beverages. Of course, its amazing suds selection is deservedly famous (myriad drafts are half-off during HH — 4-8 p.m., M-F). But Bodega’s little wines-by-the-glass list also attracts ($8 Burgans albarino, $7 Bieler Pere et Fils Provencal rose and, for $6, Frisk riesling or La Tarasque Cotes Du Rhone red), and is discounted $2/pour during HH.

Bodega’s sweltering-weather-perfect and citrus-bursting cocktails rock too (mostly $8). I liked the light and punchy Continental (strawberry-infused tequila and Aperol), happily lapped the bitterly austere Ritual (bourbon barrel-aged Watershed gin and Chartreuse), but declared the super-refreshing Somerset (cucumber-blueberry-infused Watershed gin with ginger beer — request the $1 Rambling House upcharge) one of the best libations of summer 2014.

Food-wise, grilled cheese sandwiches are out. In is a small menu rife with in-house-smoked, free-range chicken. Delivered in chilled chunks, that bird was the word — along with chatty dried cherries, corn, white cheddar and bacon — on Bodega’s heavily and boldly dressed, whole-meal-in-a-mixing-bowl Romaine Salad ($5). Another value-oriented greens dish likewise designed for diners apparently not really into salads is Bodega’s meatless but busy and tender-baby-leaf-graced Kale Salad ($5). For a simpler starter, try the spoonable-salsa-like Spicy Gazpacho ($3).

Smoked-then-fried chicken is king here. It can be greasy, but it’s enormously flavorful, crispy-crusted and moist. Served with pickled onions, a dynamic corn relish and so-so biscuits or cornbread, the delicious and distinct chicken arrives on beer trays in pieces of eight ($19), four ($10), two ($8), or even on beautiful brioche-bound sandwiches ($10, with a salad). For a less oily munch, the pre-smoked chicken can be grilled instead — a nice option.

Apart from chicken, Bodega also fries cod in crispy and sweet-spot-hitting Seventh Son beer batter ($10). Three clean-eating biggie nuggets — mine were oil-glistening — come with stiff, cheesy and addictive Anson Mills grits, plus heads-above homemade tartar sauce and Bodega’s ubiquitous corn relish and pickled onions.

Sides-wise, the German Potato Salad ($4) and Apple & Fennel Slaw ($3) are unusual in good, in-your-face ways. Still, the crisp Bacon Jalapeno Hush Puppies ($4) and spicy, vinegary Bacon Braised Collard greens ($3) were my favorites.

Unless you order Bodega’s outstanding grass-fed Burger ($10) — a recent and welcome menu addition — in which case the slammable fries (crunchy, not greasy) it comes with are just right.

Whatever you get, cop a tiny, made-by-The-Table, Mulberry Cream pie for dessert ($5). It’s so pretty, custardy and delightful, it almost had me channeling the World Cup again by screaming GOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!

Photos by Meghan Ralston