It was nine o'clock, I had a serious case of the Mondays, and Steamer was just starting to defrost some very frozen shrimp. Dinner would be a long time coming, which was a pretty disheartening realization. I wanted a nip of wine but not a whole bottle—oh, the problems that cloud Zinny's existence.
He took one look at me, gave me an exasperated, "What, Zin?" and threw the shrimp back in the freezer. He knows me too well: When Zinny's mood goes south, it's time to go out.
We threw on our coats and headed to Dunlays on the Square, a restaurant we had drinks at once, and promptly forgot about afterwards. We rarely go out for American food, and we generally narrow down Logan Square's modest collection of restaurant options to two choices: margaritas at Don Chema or butternut squash ravioli at Buona Terra. But I had read about Dunlay's Monday night deal—half-price glasses on wine—and felt more than up for a second visit.
We arrived 30 minutes before the kitchen closed (and about the same amount of time before I officially lost it), so we wasted no time in grabbing seats at the long, empty bar and digging into the menu. The wine list is a pretty straightforward one—two types of the friendliest grapes, generally one of which was available by the glass: two Sauvignon Blancs, two Merlots, etc.
Steamer chose the Rock & Vine Cabernet, described as having a rich finish. Since my mood was heavy, I went light and selected the Angeline Pinot Noir, which exhibited "bright and expressive fruit."
Food-wise, we were looking for something simple, fast and cheap, and decided to share a blackened fish sandwich with fries and the Caponata pizza: made with marinated eggplant, crimini mushrooms, artichokes and goat cheese.
We took a simultaneous taste of our wines, cut down in price to $4.50 and $4, respectively. Mine looked as light as it tasted; Steamer's "rich finish" was more like a rich bite. Yozers! We decided to test our theory that even cheapish wine needs to breathe, and let the glasses sit for a few minutes while we marveled, once again, at the back bar, a classic hangover from the space's former occupant, the Boulevard Cafe.
And because I have become little more than a complaining bum swaddled in scarves these days, we talked about how much more satisfying our glasses would be if we were sitting at a sidewalk table in front of the restaurant. Suddenly, the plans started spewing: We'd be back! And drink heartily! In three months!
But we were brought back to the present with the delivery of our dishes. I paused for about two ladylike seconds before grabbing at the pizza, cut into six totally shareable slices. The crust was cracker-thin, and the bevy of juicy eggplant and mushrooms studded with goat cheese was pretty darn tasty. So much so that I polished off my second before Steamer made it through his first piece.
To my I'm-not-totally-hoggish credit, he did stop munching to divide the blackened sandwich in two. Served on a typical hamburger bun with remoulade sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion, it was…OK. Other adjectives we came up with were "mealy" and "grassy." Not bad, but kind of like the tilapia we buy at Strack & Van Til—on sale.
I went back to the pizza and Steamer demolished the shoestring fries. We agreed that his wine tasted a little mellower after sitting for a bit, then stopped our griping and finished the meal.
As we got up to put our coats on, I realized that our $30 dinner, while not earth-shattering, was a little bit comforting. The American fare took me back a decade or two to my East Coast home and the excitement that accompanied dining out—invariably at a bar and grill much like Dunlay's—in the days before hamachi and aloo gobi took over my life. I'll be back in three months—but maybe on a Tuesday, when it's the bottles that get the 50-percent discount.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.