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Yankee Ingenuity

Hindquarter Bar & Grille
Robert Scheer

The High and the Mighty: Sous chef Joseph Garcia and executive chef James Bocast hold both their heads and their food high as they show off an assortment of the Hindquarter's finest fare.

A welcoming new entrance and a menu strong on American classics position Hindquarter Bar & Grille for the long run

By Christina Waters

TAKING BACK SEAT TO NO enlightened steak house, the Hindquarter is basking in its attractive new exterior, hands-on proprietorship and confident kitchen. The news is good for old-timers, who remember the high-life days when Hindquarter was a lively bar that served steaks on the side. There's still a bar--though upbeat and free of smoke--and there are still steaks, bigger and tastier than ever.

To attract newer patrons, Hindquarter recently installed contemporary patio seating, open to the air in warm weather and handsomely equipped with heaters for those who crave al fresco no matter what the temperature.

The menu boasts a whole lot more than beef, though the baby back ribs continue to attract their own cult following. When we blew in from the cold last week, the nightly listings featured grilled swordfish, local halibut, grilled sirloin of lamb and a few exotic pasta dishes. The place was filling up rapidly as we took our favorite booth in the small front dining room--reservations are strongly recommended at Hindquarter.

So what is the secret? The decor is solid yet untrendy--wainscoting, a ceiling border of tiny white lights, Lindé Martin's colorful paintings and a few plants are pretty much the whole package. It could be the excellent service--always swift, always attentive. The menu aims to please every taste and includes a fine Caesar salad, plenty of seafood specialties and a deeply satisfying roast free-range chicken plate, in addition to every conceivable variation on beef and pork.

The dress code scorns pretense--your neighboring table will be Levi's-clad, or I'll eat my hat along with the basket of exceptional breads that arrives the moment you're seated. My companion adores the tightly textured pumpernickel, but I'm a sucker for the francese and the multi-seed sweet Italian.

A pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($3.25) and a balloon goblet of Rutherford Merlot 1994 ($5) joined us as we attacked an appetizer of crisp, herb-battered calamari ($6.50). Here was calamari--tender and moist inside its crisp jacket of tasty batter--that gave "deep-fried" a good name, not to mention the excellent tartar and cocktail sauces on the side. Had the pieces been smaller--little rings are easier to navigate--they would have been perfect.

Next, we moved to a cup of the evening's Coney Island clam chowder (think Boston clam chowder with fresh tomatoes) and a dinner salad of "baby lettuces" with blue cheese and sugar-glazed walnuts ($2 extra). Wait a minute, my companion insisted dramatically, this is serious soup. And it was--distinguished by a zesty broth packed with pepper, potatoes, tender clams and onions, and flecked with crimson tomatoes. Great, intensive chowder flavor--this was soup fit for a cold night.

My salad was really quite a handful, so overladen with large, as well as baby, lettuces and blanketed with blue cheese that it almost refused to stay on its plate. I loved the crunchy-sweet walnuts, though, and tried to warm to the vinaigrette that suffered from an underabundance of vinegar. The salad was a split decision.

Entrees at Hindquarter leave no doubt as to the kitchen's generosity. A thick T-bone the size of Dallas took over most of my companion's plate ($20.99). "That's why they call it a Texas T-bone," he pointed out smugly. Rising above its one-notch-over-doneness (my companion had suffered temporary linguistic amnesia when ordering), the steak had flavor of Lone Star State proportions. But so did my gorgeous plate of lamb loin, whose rare crimson slices fanned out against a sauce of rosemary and apple-infused demi-glacé ($19.99).

We each enjoyed the vegetables--a few steamed Brussels sprouts, wonderful tender cauliflower, a pureé of sweet potato, the latter too laced with pumpkin pie spices for my taste. My red potatoes were a bit mushy, and my companion's beef rice pilaf really needs to be put out to pasture.

Our entrees, which included our choice of soup or salad, were bountiful--enough came home for huge lunches the next day--and packed with big flavors. Only the incredible noise level, that can rise to bedlamic proportions when the dining room is full, intruded.

No wonder Hindquarter keeps on kicking.

Hindquarter Bar & Grille

Address: 303 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Phone: 426-7770
Hours: Lunch Mon.­Fri. 11:30am­2pm, dinner Mon.­Sat. 5:30­9:30pm (Sun. 5pm­9pm)
Prices: Moderate
Executive Chef: James Bocast
Ambiance: ** Solid, comfy Americana
Service: *** On-target, knowledgeable delivery
Cuisine: ** Some big hits and expertise, but also some inconsistencies
Overall: The reputation seems secure--this updated landmark deserves its following

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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