CHILLICOTHE — Several years ago, Pizza Hut divested itself of most of its freestanding restaurants and moved operations into strip mall storefronts, leaving a series of small towns with a vacant building with that vaguely familiar roof.
Not everybody has succeeded in filling such spaces. Some have become bars, tacky gambling emporiums, short-lived restaurants. It's a bit surprising, then, that there was mild controversy when owners planned to open Lucky Dog's Pub and Eatery, 701 N. 4th St. Few such places have squared the circle so efficiently and effectively, and rather than the raucous bar some feared, it's a nice, neighborhood restaurant that also features some libations.
The interior isn't necessarily eye-catching, but it succeeds in many ways at making you feel comfortable. There are TVs, but they don't dominate the landscape. There's not a lot of space, but it's used effectively enough to make it conversation friendly, even with, as we had, a table with lots of active kids nearby. The bar is tucked in the back, but spacious and well designed. Perhaps best of all from our perspective, the video gambling area is nicely walled off from the dining room and the noise doesn't reach it.
We were waved in to a seat as we arrived and quickly approached for a drink order. I had an Angry Orchard cider ($3.25), and my fiancee sampled the mango moscato ($4) a very, very sweet, white wine with tropical fruit flavoring.
The menu is something of a mashup between pub standards — various burgers, wraps and sandwiches — and homestyle fare for specials, like country fried steak, spaghetti and chicken Parmesan.
We started with an order of the Bulldog Bites ($7.29), essentially a tenderloin cut into strips. Each piece is coated in a thin breading and the pork flavor really comes through. We enjoyed it with barbecue sauce, but they offer a range of options for dipping.
I went with one of the specials of the day, the Italian beef ($8.99). It's not a Chicago-style with shaved beef, but quite tasty for what it is, marinated and shredded and thoroughly juicy. The tater tots alongside were fairly standard, but the cole slaw I added as a second side ($1.89) was excellent, with a very thin dice on the cabbage and that right amount of mayo between too dry and too soupy.
My fiancee had the fish sandwich ($7.59), a bit pre-made in its well-shaped and breaded triangular shape, but fine for what it was. She raved more about the sweet potato fries on the side and the cinnamon-butter dipping sauce they came with — very sweet and savory.
Another couple joined us for dinner. One started with the salad bar (unlimited for $8.49, or $0.45 per ounce for a single trip). The pay-by-the-ounce option is a good one that ensures you only spring for what you want. It's more substantial than a basic salad bar, with plenty of veggies and toppings to supplement your greens. She balanced out that healthy start with an order of a dozen wings ($8.79) in mild sauce. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but satisfying.
Her husband had the Junkyard Prime burger ($9.89), a burger with grilled onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese, topped with slices of prime rib and a horseradish sauce. It was quite substantial — he was fine not ordering a side with it — and he hardly got a word in as he worked on devouring it.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.