Consistent and strong scratch-cooking, plus good ingredients, breathe life into a menu filled with commonplace items
When Westies Gastropub in Clintonville opened in March, the early crowds were large but the word-on-the-street applause and positive online feedback that reached me were small. Either the negative hubbub was unreliable — shocker! — or Westies has smoothed over its new-eatery kinks. (My review policy: Don’t visit a restaurant until it’s been open at least a month.) Because multiple recent meals at this Westies — which is the third link in a small, local chain — have demonstrated that it’s the best sports bar in its neighborhood.
In addition to a pleasant little patio shaded by trees, Westies offers an open and attractive dining room where ochre walls and abundant natural light play off two-toned banquettes and tall-backed booths tinted pale blue and muted brown. The space, which also features a high ceiling, a handsome wood-and-tile floor, TVs galore, plus personable servers, strikes a comfortable balance between upscale and casual.
Along with 24 beers on tap, a few cocktails are offered, such as the fine house margarita ($9). Made with good ingredients that include el Jimador tequila, fresh lime juice and a Grand Marnier floater, it’s a nice match for the restaurant’s cuisine — a scratch-cooking approach to pub grub that breathes life into commonplace items.
Warm and crisp just-fried tortilla chips and flavorful house beer-cheese sauce anchor the genre-eclipsing Nachos ($9). Fresh garnishes that include smooth-and-tangy guacamole, cilantro and pico de gallo add to the messy fun. Boosters such as irresistible but mislabeled “carnitas” ($3) — crisp pork-belly strips — cost a little extra.
Westies Wings ($10), which are brined and unbattered but alluringly crusted, are well-executed, too. Buffalo and Carolina Gold (like honey mustard) are among the recommended house-made sauces. Tip: The excellent blue cheese dip is definitely worth 25 cents more.
Ordering a “small” serving of Westies Chili ($4) delivers a hearty, ground-beef-packed and delicious bowl of stew that’s nearly filling enough to constitute a meal. It’s Texas style, so don’t expect beans, but do expect a rich, nuanced and beer-spiked tomato broth.
The enjoyably multi-textured Quinoa Salad ($9) shows this place can prepare healthful vegetarian dishes with style as well. A garlicky, citrus-kissed yogurt dressing enriches fluffy quinoa, lightly pickled carrot sticks, toasted almond slivers, cucumbers, dried fruit and corn. A bed of arugula provides bitter counterpoints for the lively Mediterranean-style ensemble.
Pizzas are a featured item here and should be. Distinguished by a thin and crisp yet sturdy, house-made crust that’s better than what you get from most local pizzerias, they can be topped with the expected items, but also a few surprises.
The most unusual pizza combo is the sweet-and-spicy Korean BBQ Chicken pie ($13), with grilled chicken cubes, jalapenos (mine were fiery), fresh mozzarella, cheddar, cilantro, red onions, plus a barbecue sauce with soy and sesame-oil notes. The sauce and cheeses make strange bedfellows, but don’t sleep on the curious allure of such a marriage.
Ohio-sourced, grass-fed beef is the star of the solid Westies Burger ($13). Accompanying the juicy chargrilled patty — which offers smoky, backyard-cooked flavor — are melted cheddar, bread-and-butter pickles, mayo, a toasted brioche roll and a nifty side of puffy-yet-crisp, house-made potato chips with an oniony “ranch” spice dusting.
I was glad to hear that a recent special, the Hot Honey Chicken and Waffle ($14), has become a permanent new menu addition because it’s one of the best versions of chicken and waffles in town. A thick and crunchy house-made waffle (many establishments fail this part) doused with maple syrup is topped by a huge, crisp and craggy battered piece of breast meat brightened by honey-infused house Buffalo sauce. A fried egg gilds the lily of this spicy, sweet, rich and characteristically overachieving feel-good dish.