Lunch Money: Bodega
Have you ever eaten at Bodega? For a long time, I hadn't, even though I've always heard good things about their food (their $1 grilled cheese Mondays, in particular, I've been meaning to try for some time now).
That's because the beloved hipster hangout - famous for its excellent happy hour and 50 beers on tap - gets so crowded during the evening hours when I usually drop by that I'm thrilled just to get a beer. I don't push my luck by trying to snag a table.
But I recently discovered a good strategy: Go at lunch! While it's still fairly busy, I didn't have to wait for a table on a recent afternoon visit.
If you're dining alone, just grab a stool at the long, curved bar that stands as the centerpiece at Bodega. Otherwise, it's best to stick to dining in groups of, oh, two, as the majority of tables fit that number comfortably. The vibe is urban lofty, with exposed brick and ductwork, Ikea-style light fixtures and booths made partly of particle board.
Those 50 beers I mentioned earlier, a great mixture of craft and microbrews, are available all day, but it's probably more appropriate to get a coffee at lunchtime, don't you think? And Bodega serves Stauf's coffee and plenty of espresso drinks, too.
On the menu, you'll find salads, pizzas and sandwiches, plus a few fancier small plates, like a sampler of locally crafted sausages and a Mediterranean plate with hummus, olives, vegetables and pita bread.
BBQ Short Ribs Panini, $8
The sandwich list at Bodega includes an intriguing variety of options, from a homey Tuna Melt to a BLT with sriracha mayonnaise, but I so enjoyed the one I ordered - a hearty and warm Short Ribs Panini - that I'll likely never get around to trying the others.
The first few words in the menu description are Sweet Baby Ray's, so I was slightly worried the sticky sweet sauce would overwhelm the sandwich. Happily, the smoky and tender short rib meat - a bunch of it - is what you'll remember most about this sandwich.
The meat is just lightly basted with the Sweet Baby Ray's, adding a nice hit of flavor alongside some melted Swiss and chopped red onions. Everything is loaded onto an Italian round roll, then grilled panini-style. It's simple and satisfying.
Paninis come with kettle chips and a pickle, or you can opt to upgrade the side from chips to fresh seasonal vegetables, like sliced carrots and squash on mixed greens.
BBQ Short Ribs Panini: $8
Tax & Tip: $1.74
1044 N. High St., Short North