- Sweet potato skins for the win at Clay West.
Sarah is excited when we luck into a parking spot almost on top of the entrance to Clay West Bar & Grill. The sprawling parking lot is nearly empty, but small victories should always be celebrated. We quickly head inside, finding a cavernous dining room that challenges the square footage of the lot.
It's strangely quiet in the restaurant considering the mammoth projector televisions that are on the walls. A bar lights up one wall, with just a few patrons sitting along the length of it.
A sign at the door says to seat yourself, so we choose a booth wedged close to the other couple of diners in the room. We sit at our table quite a bit longer than we probably should have given the emptiness of the restaurant. A few servers hang out by the bar, and one wanders by without taking any notice. It's still a few minutes more before she comes by and asks if we'd like menus. ("Yes," we say, since we are people in a restaurant.)
As we are looking through the menus—a mix of standard bar fare like burgers and BLTs, and homey fare like meatloaf and chicken with biscuits—the lights dim and the one above our table starts to flicker like an American Horror Story is about to take place. We tell our server we are going to switch booths instead of quickly going insane, but she explains that all of the lights flicker when dimmed. She leaves and a moment later someone benevolently bumps the lighting back up a bit.
We decide to start with an order of sweet potato skins ($8), with a slight adjustment to remove the green onion, which Sarah is allergic to. A huge basket shows up not long after. Coins of russet potato and strips of sweet potato sit atop crumpled newsprint, which soaks up the grease. The potato is topped with crisp, crumbled bacon and melted cheddar cheese; a big cup of sour cream sits beside the basket. The potatoes are delicious, exactly the type of bar food I'd be happy to find anywhere.
We follow up our potatoes with the Atomic Burger ($12), the CW Chicken Biscuit ($12) and a side Rabbit Food salad ($3.95).
The burger is bland and underwhelming. The banana peppers and whatever it is that comprises the "loco sauce" do not combine to be atomic in any way. Sarah tries to add a bit more flavour with the curry mayo that was given with the sweet potato fries, but still isn't wowed. The crispy sweet potato fries, however, are quite good.
The Rabbit Food salad is a pert mix of celery, cabbage, fennel, carrot and apple, with a citrus poppyseed dressing and sunflower seeds sprinkled on top. The dressing leans heavily on lime, making it almost puckeringly bitter. A little more balance would be good, but it is a decent salad.
The chicken biscuit, described by our server as a sort of deconstructed chicken pot pie, is a gluey mess of chicken, corn, peas, carrots and broccoli. The vegetables are all a little overcooked, and the gravy is heavily over-seasoned. The biscuits, cooked in muffin tins giving their crust a texture more like a popover, are flaky and good. I eat them with butter and leave the chicken.
Our server returns and takes our plates without asking us how our meal was, even though both are still piled with food. The lack of interaction makes it feel awkward and pointless to bring up any dislike of the dish, so we shrug it off, pay and leave. It was an underwhelming meal at start and finish, but, as Humphrey Bogart once said, "At least we'll always have potato skins."