Review by LavachickieThe smallish parking lot between Noble's and a dry cleaner spawned Johnny's Bar and Grill. It seemed unnatural, but became less so after driving by untold times on the way home, marveling at the odd mix of styles (brash red building, splash of zebra print in the logo, palm trees in a small outdoor seating area). My friend Jilly suggested we go there for dinner/drinks Friday night. Grabbing my husband, we gave it a go.
Can one ever have a good bad experience? Yes, yes you can.
A hate of cigarette smoke kept me out of many places in Salem until The Change(TM). I'm one of the seemingly few who are really happy about this development; as a result I've eaten out MORE and in MORE PLACES, economy be damned. After college, I ceased to have a "favorite bar" and for most of my adult life really haven't done bars so I've lost touch with what "a good bar" feels like.
Wasn't sure what to expect, but as we walked in... I liked it. The decor inside is definitely BAR, with the usual neon corporate booze paraphernalia, lottery game signs, etc. But the walls are a nice rich tan with awesome airbrushed desert foliage in a chocolate taupe. It was an unexpected style point that, together with the darker tables and booths, really fit well. The place was spotless; not so much as a stray straw wrapper on the floor or dust on the windowsills.
We sat in a very comfy, well sized booth and were promptly tended to by a very pleasant server with blond dreadlocks. The menu has nice variety: bar fare, sandwiches, entrees of pasta/seafood/chicken/steak. The nightly specials were a choice from two cuts of beef with veggie, potato and small salad. That was my destination, while Jilly chose chicken skewers and Scot made the unfortunate choice of a chicken Philly sandwich.
Beers and conversation kept us busy; they were out of Flat Tire, but we managed. (Out of a beer at 7pm on a Friday night?) Side salads arrived for Jilly and I; while small they were a delightful presentation of mixed greens (no iceberg in sight), diced onions, tomatoes and black olives. My bleu cheese dressing was quality, with nice chunks in it. Good flavor combo.
More beers and conversation. We weren't in a hurry, but were all aware that it was taking a VERY long time for food to arrive, given we were only one of three tables seated in the place. Our waitress tentatively asks how we were doing at about the 45 minute mark, and apologized for the delay. We said that yeah, we'd noticed, but we were chilling and catching up, so no worries. She stammered about having SOME problem with SOMEONE in the kitchen... she didn't provide any more details; but of course, that little slip piqued my interest.
We were entertained in the interim by women circulating offering free small samples of tequila. Two samples seemed to come from the bar itself, distributed by their own staff; a third later on in the evening were shelled out by two women in silver sequined dresses more likely hired by a distributor since they were giving out free shot glasses, too. *
Shortly thereafter, our server delivered my steak and Jilly's skewers. Both entrees were on nice stoneware well suited to the items and their portions, which resulted in a very nice presentation. My steak looked perfectly seared, tender and juicy, flanked by the sweet potato fries I requested along with asparagus spears. I had worried about ordering a steak in a bar, thanks to my high standards. But it was... perfect. A good cut, lightly seasoned, well cooked.
When she delivered the entrees, she apologized again for the delay, and said they would take care of us that night, all the dinners were comped. Wow. That's impressive. I like it when a place sets their own standards, and if they fail to meet them, they make amends, period. They failed and they were going to face it front on, and not wait for the poor diner to complain. Now that's class.
My husband's entree was delayed longer. When it arrived... oh boy. It just doesn't make sense; it was so bad I can't imagine ANYONE letting it out of their kitchen. Perhaps someone thought they were making a good choice by shorting something that was going to a table which was comped anyway? What the menu promised him was a juicy sandwich of chicken with grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheese. What he got was a bun about the size of a regular hot dog bun. It looked as if there was nothing on it. When he lifted it, inside was a scant 2 tablespoons of hard chewy small chicken cubes in some brown sauce. There was ONE 1/4" x 2" strip of red pepper (I kid you not... ONE) and no mushrooms to be found. A shred or two of cheese held it together. It was literally two small fork bits of content to the sandwich.
He commented that if you are out of something or for any reason can't put it together, you should offer the customer the option to choose something else.
Given the size and quality of the other entrees, and the robust sandwiches we'd seen going to another table, this just seemed like someone wasn't trying at all... someone should have known better. That one person made it, another person might have directed it out of the kitchen and a third person delivered it to the table... that's a huge boo-boo.
My husband is a doll, but when he is hungry, he gets grumpy. I felt so bad for him I offered to give him the other half of my dinner but he wasn't interested. Poor guy. He ate the salad that accompanied it on the plate, drank some more water and imagined what he'd order on the way home.
We were in a pickle: we'd already been told the food was free... how does one complain about that? He normally would have sent it back and asked for something different, but he simply said it was a disappointment and left it at that.
The owner, Johnny, visited our table afterward to check up on us. We appreciated that he was taking care of us, and I admit I was at a loss as to how to address the sandwich issue; my husband simply noted it just seemed out of step with the quality of the other items he saw. We let him know it was our first time visiting there, but said all things considered we'd give him another try sometime. He apologized for the troubles and thanked us for the chance to do it right the next time.
So all things considered... good, and worth trying again to see if it holds up.
* Interestingly enough, we saw some strange interaction between a bar patron and the girls giving out the sample; from what I heard, this gentleman was upset that his free shot glass only came with a small sample of tequila and he felt he should get a full shot from her for free. Other people became involved, but I didn't hear the content of the conversation. As we were leaving, these women were returning to their car and calling their manager, saying they'd just gotten chewed out by the management of the bar that they were assigned to work that night. Nothing like a little drama to go along with your meal!