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Bar food with an interesting twist?

June 26, 2006|by PHILIP McGULLET

Bar food has something of a negative connotation, stemming from the fact that it is too often an apathetic nod to hungry drinkers who might or might not remember the next morning whether the chow they glommed the night before was any good.

The Hagerstown Bar & Grill, however, brings an interesting twist to the bar food scene, by employing the pizza, subs and salads of Ledo Pizza's regional chain in a barroom setting.

Hagerstown Bar & Grill makes its own burgers, but most everything else is of the Ledo's tried-and-true variety. If you have ever been sitting in the Foxshire Plaza Ledo, wishing you could have a dry martini and watch ESPN, Hagerstown Bar & Grill might be for you.

Occupying a narrow slot in the shopping center anchored by Weis at the corner of Eastern Boulevard and Dual Highway, the Hagerstown Bar & Grill is rather confined by necessity in its dcor, and everything seems a bit uncomfortably squeezed. It's clean and tasteful but rather stark and could perhaps benefit from a potted plant.

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The atmosphere is neighborhood-tavern friendly, the staff was cheerful and helpful - the waitress went out of her way to keep a sharp eye on us and patiently answer our too-frequent questions.

The bar takes up about a third of the space, the rest being small tables that remind patrons this is a tavern first, a dining room second. Cocktails got high marks from the imbibers, especially a salty margarita of a nontraditional color (more of an orange) but a pleasing result.

But bar or no bar, that lure of Ledo's raises culinary expectations.

We're huge fans of Ledo's, which serves excellent salads, subs and pizza at bargain prices. So we were curious how a Ledo/grill hybrid would translate into a bar setting.

What we found was something of a work in progress. It's better than most bar food, but there still are some rough edges.

The wings were perfectly done, crisp outside, moist inside, and the Buffalo-style sauce was perhaps a bit top-heavy on the Tabasco, but for those who find this flavor a little metallic, there are plain and barbecue styles.

The Ledo's salad is the same huge portion served at its chain locations, with deli meat and cheese, hot peppers and creamy dressing, but seemed to be missing an ingredient or two from the genuine article. A brown edge here and there on the lettuce pointed to the thought that salads might not be the fastest movers on the Hagerstown bar-menu scene.

Moving on to the heavier fare, we were well-pleased with the stromboli, which had the nice touch of being open-ended as opposed to being sealed in dough. This allowed some delectable crispiness to the cheese and pepperoni, without drying out the whole affair. And for dipping, pizza sauce was served on the side

The Ledo's steak and cheese sub was virtually the same one we have come to know and love, a generously stuffed roll with chopped steak, gooey cheese, mushrooms and peppers. We found ourselves concentrating hard to determine any difference between Hagers-town Bar & Grill's Ledo sub and a Ledo's Ledo sub, and if you have to think that hard to discern a difference, there probably isn't any.

So far, so good. Everything Ledo-related was either Ledo-quality or close. So next was a creation of the Hagerstown Bar & Grill's own, its half-pound "bar burger."

Oh dear. It's probably not easy to make a tough cheeseburger, but somehow it happened. Ordered medium, it came as flavorless and overdone as a witch in Salem, served on a role that was crumbling like dry parchment.

A growing pain perhaps, or maybe a one-time aberration. But it was not an encouraging sign that Hagerstown Bar & Grill is ready to stray too far from the Ledo's formula.

The silver lining - or in this case the golden lining - was provided by waffle fries, which are actually an improvement on the familiar skinny fries of Ledo's.

Big and hefty, they came with a crunch and were light and fluffy inside, definitely worth the upgrade from chips with any sandwich.

And as with the mother ship, it's hard to argue with the value - three full meals, drinks included, barely topped $40.

Those more interested in food than drink will be better off at the regular Ledo Pizza. And any establishment that has the word "grill" in its name needs to demonstrate some attention to its burgers if it is to be taken seriously.

That said, if you are seeking to relax with friends and cocktails, catch a ball game and have access to some good food that's (if you stick to the Ledo's fare) that is more than an afterthought, the Hagerstown Bar & Grill is a compelling choice.

Philip McGullet is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail staff member who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.




Hagerstown Bar & Grill

61 Eastern Blvd.

Hagerstown

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

301-791-5915

Food: 3 stars (out of 5)

Value: 4 stars

Service: 4 stars

Ambience: 2 stars

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