The word "saloon" might conjure images of hard drinking and barroom brawling, but that's not what you'll find behind the pleasant redbrick facade of Olde Magoun's Saloon in Somerville. This is a roomy, comfortable space with a dark-wood bar on one side and tables and a rustic stone fireplace on the other.
The five-year-old pub has a well curated beer list and a menu offering skillfully executed takes on comfort food by Howard Haywood, formerly of Armani Cafe and Aquitaine and a friend of owner Greg Coughlin, who has been running the kitchen for the past year. Haywood brings flair to some very familiar dishes.
Wicked Magoun's Chili ($3.50 and $5.50) is smoky and meaty, thanks to chunks of steak and kielbasa, with a subtle, complex spiciness. Served with homemade chips, it's wicked good.
Carolina Bites ($7 for four) are slider-size soft buns heaped with North Carolina-style pulled pork in a mustard sauce. The little white-bread buns are perfect holders for the mounds of sweetly smoky meat.
The grilled Reuben XXL ($9.95) is definitely truth in advertising (below). All Magoun's portions are generous, but this sandwich, huge slices of rye bread with enormous amounts of corned beef, sweet Russian dressing, and tangy sauerkraut tucked between them, is enormous.
Magoun's offers mac and cheese with a choice of toppings: kielbasa, popcorn shrimp, blackened chicken, or steak. We order ours with popcorn shrimp ($11.95). Al dente elbows in a creamy, cheesy sauce topped with crunchy little fried shrimp arrive in a little cast-iron skillet with a potholder wrapped around the handle. The crispy shrimp are a nice contrast to the soft, smooth pasta and sauce.
Turkey meatloaf wrapped in bacon ($13.95) is a plate heaped with slices of moist ground meat infused with maplewood flavors. This is as good as comfort food gets, but sadly the whipped potatoes are cold.
The menu does hit a couple of wrong notes. While the Margherita pizza topping is saucy and cheesy, the crust isn't crisp. Fish in a Schezuan yellow fin tuna sandwich is overwhelmed by Chinese five spice mix, and the fish itself is rubbery.
There are no wrong notes on the 21-line draft beer list, which includes Allagash White, Sierra Nevada smoked porter, Sprecher winter, and Warsteiner Dunkel. (Each beer is served in glassware appropriate to its style.)
The service is cheerful and helpful, though one busy Saturday evening, we're told seating is first come, first served. But no one is keeping a list. We have to do a little elbowing to secure a table. That's as close as we ever get to a brawl.