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CHEAP EATS

From down-home to gussied up

Email|Print| Text size + By Anand Vaishnav
August 18, 2005

Decisions, decisions. At most restaurants, you pick a drink, an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, and away you go. Nothing to it.

Not so at Intermission Tavern, a casual spot on Tremont Street in the heart of the Theater District. Choosing a drink means selecting from 17 martinis, 17 wines, and 30 beers. Dinner can come from the upscale entree menu or the down-home grill list. For sandwiches, you can mix and match your meat, vegetable, cheese, bread, and spread from a long list, just like a real deli.

Luckily, the Intermission Tavern provides a relaxed setting to ponder these weighty choices. Opened two months ago, the 52-seat restaurant and bar replaced Charlie Flynn's, a famed dive bar. If Charlie Flynn's was your sketchy, unshaven cousin, Intermission Tavern is your smooth-talking, preppy older brother. Candles sit atop a counter, and chairs overlook the street. Posters of plays, along with 100-year-old stage braces used to hold up sets -- supplied by owner Michael Connors, a third-generation stagehand -- hang on the brick wall. The bar sports a jumble of plants, books, and odd porcelain statues that give the place a homey feel.

The menu's also pretty comfortable and includes choices like meatloaf, mac-and-cheese, and hamburgers. But executive chef Kyle Garell added panseared salmon and peppercorn-encrusted pork tenderloin for the pre- and post-theater crowds. He and Connors envisioned a place that appeals to them as well as to the downtown office suits and families strolling in from the Common.

We began with the intense martinis ($8.50), which knock you over despite their innocent names, like "caramel apple" and "strawberry" -- the latter looks like Pepto-Bismol but tastes far superior. An appetizer, the pork pot stickers ($8), was the only disappointment we tasted. They looked like miniature eggrolls, deep-fried to a dark-brown crisp, and tasted thoroughly overdone. The spinach salad ($7.50) was far better. The small hill of emerald spinach leaves had crispy candied walnuts poking out and tiny slices of mandarin orange ringing the plate. Bland it wasn't: The spinach came topped with homemade warm bacon vinaigrette that had a touch of salt and a touch of maple sweetness.

The meatloaf ($13) was a tad mushy, but won me over with its earthy flavor and hints of peppers and onions. Garell tosses in Japanese breadcrumbs to make it fluffier, and the portion came sliced in three pieces, not one big slab. Garell said he prepares it that way because it's faster and fresher to make the meatloaf in smaller chunks. A deep crimson glaze of brown sugar and tomato covered the meat.

Mac-and-cheese ($13) might sound like a simple dish. But Garell built it like a creamy, thick lasagna, with layers of cheddar, parmesan, and macaroni, topped with pink slivers of ham and crushed crackers. A foccacia sandwich ($8.50) arrived with fresh mozzarella, thin prosciutto, and flavorful pesto. Don't skip the burgers, but make sure you're hungry. The Texas burger ($8.50) featured a 10-ounce cut of meat that was slightly pinker than the well-done I ordered, but no big deal. The juicy barbecue sauce and the chewy bacon made up for it.

The toffee cheesecake ($6) was a great sendoff. Creamy and sweet, with hints of butterscotch, it arrived drizzled in caramel and chocolate sauces. Garell said he has recently begun experimenting with cheesecakes of his own creation, such as a Bailey's Irish Cream cheesecake with white and dark chocolate swirls. That means we'll be back, now that we've studied those important questions of what to order.

INTERMISSION TAVERN

Cuisine: American

Address: 228 Tremont Street, Boston (Theater District)

Phone: 617-617-5997

Hours: Daily 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Prices: $6 - $15.

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