Dining on the Side

Eating around the main dish at the new Frontier Room.

WHEN THE FRONTIER ROOM re-opened last year, longtime Seattleites were divided between regret and relief. By the time it finally closed, the old Frontier Room had degenerated into the kind of late-night grunge pit that only the strong of stomach could visit; the kind of dive that only Dave Attell of Comedy Central's Insomniac and his kind could really love. The new, improved Frontier Room did its best to maintain a funky atmosphere for the nostalgiaphiles, while ensuring more timid customers that they wouldn't stick to the banquettes or risk a social disease merely visiting the rest room. The makeover seems to have worked: The Frontier Room is almost always well populated by a mostly young and lively clientele. Though not a meat rack within the strict meaning of the term, it's fair to say that you could do a lot worse if you're looking for action as well as a drink or a bite to eat. The only thing I don't get is the barbecue. All the pre-publicity for the Room emphasized its commitment to the pit; the very logo of the place is a stylized rearing bull branded with the restaurant's initials. There's a special note calling attention to the organic Niman Ranch pork used to make the Tennessee-style shoulder ($12.50) and St. Louis-style ribs ($18.50 full slab, $12.50 half). The careful seasoning and long slow cooking required for perfect barbecue is emphasized in the description of every dish. And every dish, from the baby back ribs ($13.50-$19.50) to the brisket ($13.95) and chicken ($11.95 a half) is as dull as dishwater; tender to the verge of mushy, yes, but so blandly seasoned that you can hardly tell the beef from the pork and the bird. Fortunately, there's lots of nonbarbecue on the menu, and it's pretty darn good. The house-ground "hickory" burger ($9.50) is a pip; get it medium rare and juicy. The chili (cup $4.50, bowl with side of cornbread $8.95) fragrant and filling, the smoked-chicken Caesar salad ($8.95) a one-dish meal, the broiled oysters with arugula and hollandaise sauce ($9.50) an imaginative treat. A vegetarian could make a satisfactory meal on just a set of sidesfries, hush puppies, cole slaw, greens, potato salad, and more ($2.50-$4.50)but said veggie has no need to, since the menu thoughtfully provides a bevy of satisfactory if not stellar seafood entrees ($13.50-$17.50), plus a meatless chili, red beans and rice, and a veggie burger. Throw in generous drinks, good beer on tap, and comfort-food desserts ($4.50-$6.50) and you've got a meal. Just stay clear of the barbecue; it'll break your heart. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

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