Food and Drink » Last Supper

What's in a Name?

Hits and Misses at Life of Riley

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It's an awkward name, "Life of Riley." It's too long, and requires too much explanation. So you don't have to ask, here's what the menu has to say: "Life of Riley: the good life; a comfortable existence." The menu goes on to explain something about how "Riley" was probably an Irish character in a 19th century song. It's too much information, and really not a very good name at all, but you get what they're shooting for: a comfortable atmosphere. Good food, drinks, and everyone knowing your name.

Whether or not Life of Riley will establish itself as the local favorite it strives to be remains to be seen; they've only been open a few months. The tavern sits in the old Jimmy Mak's space, and it looks much the same, only Riley is a bit... cleaner. There's a restaurant upstairs, which has a classy/casual appeal, and the lighting is quite nice, making everyone look about 10 degrees hotter than they actually are.

The downstairs bar gets fairly busy at night, and it's easy to see why: It's a casual, slummy little spot, with a few pool tables, video poker, and a shuffleboard table that still seems to be a well-kept secret (plus you can smoke downstairs). If it does tend to draw a yuppie crowd, at least they're generally well behaved and good looking—just don't go anywhere near this place on First Thursday.

The prices are pretty reasonable for this neighborhood: I will never pay three dollars for a pint of Miller High Life, but apparently enough people are willing to do so that they can keep it on the menu—but who am I to fault a restaurant for taking money from idiots? As for me, I'll cheerfully drop four for a Roots Red or Terminal Gravity IPA. Cocktail prices, too, are right where they should be.

If it seems like I'm avoiding talking about the food, that's because I am. I like many things about this place; it's comfortable, the service has been consistently excellent, and it's nice having another casual dining option in the Pearl. However, I've had some pretty mixed experiences with the food, ranging from quite good to completely inedible. I tried an appetizer of house-made kettle chips tossed with Cajun spice and onion dip; the chips were greasy and too thick, and the Cajun spice overpowered the dip, rendering it almost flavorless. On my visit, the 12-inch veggie pizza was quite good, topped that day with pesto and bell peppers for a nice balance of ingredients. I tried the steak and wedge salad; the wedge of iceberg lettuce was overdressed with a green peppercorn dressing (glorified ranch—let's call it what it is) that nonetheless went quite well with the thinly sliced grilled sirloin. Then again, my tomato soup tasted exactly like spaghetti sauce.

Next time I'm in the mood for something meaty, I might stop by Life of Riley for a bacon-wrapped meatloaf sandwich or an Italian sub, since meat dishes are what they do best; otherwise, I might come in during happy hour for their small plates. There's good stuff on the menu, it just takes a while to figure out what it is—but if you take the time, you might find you've got yourself a new neighborhood favorite.

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