Let's, for the time being, ignore the larger sociological issues surrounding Ohio City and its rapid transformation from diverse, urban community to white-collar funzone complete with bridge-and-tunnel tourists and curbside valet, and focus strictly on Town Hall, a restaurant that epitomizes that evolution, and perhaps accelerated it, but is in no way solely responsible for it—a restaurant that, like the very district around it, changes from laid-back locale to clamorous nightlife destination over the course of a single day.
Town Hall is the Cinderella of restaurants; get there too late and enchantment gives way to discontent. I can't recall having such contrasting experiences at the very same restaurant. During the day, Town Hall can be downright magical, with its beachy vibe—complete with lake breezes!—South Beach build-out and tropical soundtrack providing a taste of vacation in our own backyard. Come too late and the music gets louder, the service gets ruder, and the food starts to play second (or third) fiddle to the fun.
There's no denying that Town Hall is an attractive restaurant—almost jarringly so. Walking out of the timeworn West Side Market and into the highly polished Town Hall is nearly enough to give a person vertigo. Plush sidewalk seating gives way to limitless views thanks to a dining room that's open end to end. Bookended garage doors provide a patio-like experience even when dining under cover. Raised banquettes along the wall offer great people watching, while the mile-long bar always seems to have an open spot for singles and deuces. Out back, a secluded courtyard with a variety of seating looks as if it was transplanted from a more temperate climate.
At lunch on Saturday, our server could not have been more attentive. She suggested great items off the weekend brunch menu and always seemed to be around when we needed her. We started with fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices: the Green Thumb ($4.50), a kale-based drink, and the ABC ($4.50), named not for the bar across the street but for its apple, beet and carrot ingredients. Draft beers, regardless the style or ABV, cost $5 per glass.
Had we skipped the dry and tough buttermilk biscuits ($3.50), we really would have had a near-perfect meal. The Ohio City salad ($9) was garden fresh and loaded with spring greens, ripe, creamy avocado, sweet dates and crumbled goat cheese. It's large enough to share or to eat as a light entrée.
Town Hall pairs a crispy-gooey grilled cheese and roasted tomato sandwich ($10) with a cup of tomato bisque on a single plate, going so far as slicing the sandwich into fingers for easy dipping. Great quality, thin-sliced smoked turkey is at the heart of a wonderful club sandwich ($11) that also includes crisp bacon, roasted peppers, fontina cheese, and a rosemary-scented aioli—all tucked neatly into a soft, square ciabatta bun. Crisp, slender salty truffle-scented shoestrings come along for the ride.
Also on the weekend menu are breakfast dishes like egg sandwiches, pancakes and build-your-own crepes from the manned crepe station.
The difference between that brunch and a separate dinner visit was—literally and figuratively—night and day. From the start, it was clear that our young server had more interesting things to do than attend to our needs. When I asked her to make a recommendation for a local IPA, she simply said, "I don't know." I picked one and ordered it by name, but all she wanted to know was "What number?"
She dropped a BBQ chicken flatbread ($11) with no plates, and when we asked if the restaurant had red pepper flakes, she said, "Oh, no," and walked off, leaving us flabbergasted. Had she bothered to check back after she delivered our mains (which arrived roughly five minutes after our starters), she would have seen that my wife had barely made a dent in her curry chicken noodles ($9). The mushy noodles had absorbed all the broth, leaving a big doughy mess. And rather than the rice vermicelli described on the menu, the noodles are in fact brown spaghetti.
The pizza wasn't much better, with a thick, pale crust doing little to lighten a pie that was overloaded with cheddar, dry chicken and unroasted peanuts. A trio of "Street Truck" tacos ($9.50) would have been much better (hotter) had they not been loaded down with so many cold toppings like slaw, guacamole, salsa and crème fraiche.
The later it gets at Town Hall, the less it feels like a restaurant and the more it feels like a club. I walked into a messy restroom, where the soap dispenser hung precariously from the wall. Bartenders flip their ball caps backwards and servers redirect their attentions to younger, prettier customers. Being neither, I'll just make an effort to come earlier instead.
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