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Dizzying Heights

Local Favorite Dive-Ish Bar Exports Its Pub-Grub Menu To Midtown With Mixed Results

Dizzy Issie’s of Mount Vernon

This location is closed

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 1/11/2006

Remington’s beloved Dizzy Issie’s has spun itself off a new restaurant in Mount Vernon (1003 N. Charles St.,[410] 244-1105). As spin-offs go, this one is less a Frasier than a Joey, pleasant enough but troublingly bland. The particular appeal of the original Dizzy has much to do with its improbable location and diamond-in-the-rough charm. It’s a drinker’s bar with a heart of jumbo lump crabmeat.

The new location is glossier, and the menu doesn’t meet expectations raised by the far more posh new environs—at least not yet. What Dizzy Issie’s of Mount Vernon does deliver, and this is no small thing, is the good cheap hamburger for which the neighborhood has long been asking. That it remains open until 4 a.m. on weekends is the gravy on the french fries.

The new location occupies some second-story rooms at Grand Central, a popular entertainment complex with a largely gay clientele. These rooms, notorious for never working in their several iterations as piano lounge and leather bar, have been sweetly remade into two distinct and pretty high-ceilinged dining rooms. Smokers gather in the clubbier front room, which includes a bar, lounge seating, pool table, and four coveted leather booths. Others sit in a more traditional and nicely arranged dining room, gifted with large windows looking out onto Charles Street, candles on white tablecloths, and large vintage posters on eggplant- and claret-colored walls. Music and lights are obviously attended to—diners can hear themselves talk and look good doing it.

The front room works as a venue for Dizzy Issie’s pub grub and comfort food menu. The mood here, even past 2 a.m., when the bar crowd wanders in, is lighthearted and mellow. Pairs of boys in booths appear to be having their quiet first dates, and no club music thumps through the air.

Dizzy Issie’s limitations as a restaurant become more apparent in the dining room, which raises expectations for interesting eating that aren’t going to be satisfied. Daily specials offer an earnest attempt to provide substantial and engaging fare, but most diners will have trouble persuading themselves, as we did, to make the leap from a $4.25 hamburger to a steak dinner priced in the mid $20s. Besides, the one full-on entrée we did try, a blackened tuna steak ($15.95) was disheartening. Overcooked and underconsidered, the steak just lay sadly on the plate, void of interest and flavor. Its accompanying sides, steamed Brussels sprouts and lame french fries, were similarly inexpressive.

What’s really missing from Dizzy Issie’s menu is the large middle ground of food between hamburger and steak special, the kind of fare that would hold the interest and satisfy the healthful needs of repeat diners—entrée salads, stir fries, winter stews. That said, even accepting Dizzy Issie’s for what it is yields less than stellar results. Appetizers are uneven. Offered with a choice of buffalo, barbecue, Old Bay, hot, or teriyaki applications, chicken wings here are superb ($7.95 for 10, $14.95 for 20). They’re meaty, juicy, and above all clean tasting. They’re presented well, too, with fresh and crisp celery sticks and blue cheese dressing that tastes homemade. Other standard—and reasonably priced—appetizers, such as stuffed jalapeño peppers ($4.25) and fried clam strips ($3.95), are barely satisfactory, likely frozen or otherwise prepackaged food-service offerings.

A hearty bowl of Chesapeake chicken noodle soup ($5.95), though, suggested the kitchen’s potential for more creative work. Crab, chicken, and corn flavors blended nicely and warmly, rewarding each spoonful with well-tempered and complex flavors.

The best thing about Dizzy Issie’s are its hamburgers, which are very inexpensive and very good. Basic burgers ($4.25) are supplemented by creative twists such as Mediterranean rub and brandied peppers, and they’re made from seasoned ground beef. A burger ordered rare arrived in perfect juicy condition; other temperature choices were handled precisely, as well.

Those special burgers delivered interest, too, without being sloppy or gimmicky. These aren’t monster burgers but sandwiches you can pick up and eat with your hands. The fries—both plain and curly—are soggy and bland, and that’s a problem.

Dizzy Issie’s might be the restaurant where gay men can have the same love affair as other Americans with fried, fatty, and occasionally stale pub grub. One of these nights, though, someone’s going to sigh over the menu, You know, I’m really in the mood for a good quiche.

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