Favorite

Strip Mall Oasis 

A down-home neighborhood bar in New L.A.

C'mon, sing along, everybody knows the words: Sometimes you want to go ... where everybody knows your name .... and they're always glad you came ...

During the heyday of the television series Cheers, when everyone tuned in on Thursday evenings to see what Sam, Diane, Woody, Carla and Norm were up to, we all wanted a neighborhood bar we could hang out in, where we knew all the regulars and the regulars knew us. Of course, we weren't too regular; that would make us alcoholics or perhaps merely pathetic. But we all wanted that wood-paneled place to hang out, have a beer, gab a little, a place that wasn't all chi-chi or ferny, a place that wasn't an obvious pickup joint, a place where you could shoot a little pool and you didn't have to shout over obnoxiously loud disco music.

Such a place exists in this town; miraculously, on the north end of town, in the heart of New L.A., virtually surrounded by chain restaurants with ersatz bars where eclectic collections of crap adorn the walls. Good Company rests in a little strip mall at the corner of Briargate and Union, next to a tanning place and across the parking lot from a Safeway.

Good Company is the kind of place you can take your kids for a burger and you won't have to worry about them overhearing someone discussing their sex life or drug habits in loud tones in the next booth. The smoking section is small, but at least there is one, and the second-hand smoke was only vaguely noticeable to our group of non-smokers one recent Saturday evening. There are some comfy booths, lots of highly polished wooden tables, and, during warmer weather, Good Company boasts one of the finest outdoor patios in the city, a marvelous spot for after-work happy hours.

But I digress. I'm more concerned with menus than margaritas these days. And I'm happy to report that you can get a nice little meal at Good Company, as long as you aren't expecting haute cuisine or anything really fancy. The service is good, too, but be forewarned -- you seat yourself.

It's not really bar food if a large portion of it isn't fried, and Good Company doesn't disappoint. You can get chips and salsa, a hot queso dip, hot artichoke dip, poppers, wings and fried cheese sticks. The house salsa is quite tasty, and while it doesn't taste overly spicy with the first bite, the heat builds up in a hurry. The hot artichoke dip (tangy and tasty with finely chopped artichokes) has a nice presentation, in a small, hollowed-out loaf of bread. It's surrounded by cheese-topped tortilla chips, which is overkill when you consider that the dip is already a) made with cheese; and b) topped with melted cheese. Personally, I would omit the cheese on the chips and add a few carrot and celery sticks to the plate.

The entrees we sampled were better than I expected, with one exception. When I'm asked how I want my burger cooked, I always say, "No pink in the middle." I don't care what they call it, I've just always hated rare burgers. So I was disappointed when my chili cheese burger, a dauntingly enormous pile, turned out to be pink in the middle. The waitress offered to replace it, but we were far enough into the meal that I didn't want to start over, so she happily removed the charge for the burger from our bill.

My second complaint was that the chili was all meat, few beans. That's fine for eating a bowl of chili, but on a burger it's redundant, covering a beef patty with a beef sauce. The chili tasted good, mind you, fairly mild and all, but I would have liked a warning about what I was getting into before I ordered. The onion rings with the burger, however, were sublime -- thick, tender, juicy sweet onions in a light batter.

The other entrees, while not gourmet fare, were tasty. There's a daily seafood special, orange roughy the night we tried it. The fish was flaky and tender, nicely cooked. The Fettucine Alfredo (available with or without chicken) was straightforward and tasty, nothing subtle, nothing funky. The Chicken Pasta Primavera was a good place to get your veggies, and the large serving of pasta was neither over- nor undercooked. The chicken breast meat was tender and juicy, not heavily seasoned, and the sauce was tasty and light. Too often places drown a primavera dish in olive oil and garlic, making the presentation greasy, but that was happily not the case here. The zucchini and yellow squash were crisp and fresh.

Since we did have little ones with us, we didn't get to stay for karaoke. That's fortunate for everyone involved, given my tone-deafness and penchant for making up in volume what I lack in tunefulness. But I wouldn't hesitate to stop in again someday, with my hubby, my daughter or a friend, just for a nosh or a drink, even if the bartender doesn't resemble either Ted Danson or Woody Harrelson.

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