Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I've been to the 'Hilltop.'

It was a particularly harried day at work. I needed a drink, and I needed it somewhere other than downtown. Some place where the beer is cheap, the smiles are infrequent but genuine, and the barkeeps take no crap.

To get my crank on for the main event I made a quick sojourn to Amici Espresso on Mulberry for a double espresso con panna and a shot of ouzo. With caffeine and alcohol breaking down the outer layers of funk, I wait for the first bus of convenience. Missing the Indianola bus and an opportunity to go to Donna’s on S.E. 14th, I quickly settled for the Fairgrounds route.

Since I’ve been frequenting the Fairgrounds neighborhood of late for libations, I boarded a bus driven by a familiar face, and voice…

After the serenade, I jumped off at E. 30 & Grand for a mini-pitcher of Amber Bock at the Main Gate. One snippet of conversation here referred to a patron whom was currently in a relationship with a practicing prostitute. The word “condom” was uttered in cautionary tones, but the usage of said item was sadly unverified.

Random drunken thought: I wonder what prehistoric man stumbled across first? Wine or beer?

Restless legs compelled me to roam and I took a hoof up to E. 30 & State to the old, familiar confines of Toad’s Tavern. To my surprise I found Shiner Bock on tap and snag a mini-pitcher for four bucks. A pint will cost you around $3.50 most everywhere else in town.

Another surprise was the chest-high to floor length urinal in the men’s toilet, with labor locals’ stickers bedecking the window panes and the condom dispenser. These long, porcelain pissers seem more frequent in divey, neighborhood bars in river towns like Davenport and onward into Illinois. They remind me of drinking in Milwaukee, decades ago.

A co-worker whom I invited out for dinner saddled up to the bar, but was so self-absorbed I didn’t notice him until he’s two-thirds into a pint of some pale-colored brew.

For dinner we drove up to Bianchi's Hilltop Lounge & Restaurant off E. 29th on Hubbell. The Hilltop has been a neighborhood institution for nearly half a century. Outside, the building has the look of a converted grocery store, which would be about the right size for post WWII supermarkets. Indoors, the place has been redesigned since my earliest memories. With three distinct seating areas and a small game room with pool and video games, Hilltop’s got room to spare.

It’s a good thing too since the Hilltop was packing them in that night; quite easily one of the most popular eateries in Lee Township on a Friday night, along with Tursi’s Latin King and Now and Later. One disappointment from the get-go was the loss of the upholstered bucket seats ringing the bar area. The linoleum had been replaced recently and apparently the bucket seats with their scratchy casters were given the heave-ho.

For starters we split a large order of onion rings. Large was a bit of an overstatement: the portion was more akin to a half-order at La Pizza House [see blog review]. The rings required dashes of table salt for my dinner pal's palate.

For the main course: an extra-large Meat Lovers' pizza. Again in size, not what we expected; being more comparable to most 'large' pizzas served around town. The price as well, so hardly a disappointment.

There was no shortage of meat on the Meat Lovers', which boasted capicola, pepperoni, ground beef and Italian sausage. The capicola and pepperoni imparted the pizza as a whole with their zesty nuances. Per bite, the chunks of ground beef were the standout, both in flavor and texture. A bacon cheeseburger pizza with this topping would rock!

The crust boasted crisp, airy edges that were sublime, but softened into limpness towards the center under the abundance of meat juices, and the resultant watery red sauce.

I have a soft spot for the Hilltop. My long estranged father took me here as a small lad. I had my first taste of alcohol here, taking a sip of vodka and grapefruit from my father’s glass. It was nasty then, now I’m lush enough to enjoy it.

That said, regardless of its hits or misses, I’ll come back to the Hilltop should the occasion arise.

Hilltop Lounge on Urbanspoon Photos from the Picasa Web Album: Reviewed Foods

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