I imagine the conversation went like this: "BlowToad is closing." "Yeah, that's a sweet bar — tons of taps. It's big enough for dance parties. Food? We'll serve wood-fired pizza and burgers."
Portrait House, with its tiny food but big craft beer menu, serves pizza, sliders and burgers designed to meet economy of scale rather than to scale culinary heights. Ingredients appear to be chosen by shelf life and ease of preparation. Bell peppers top tofu sliders and the chicken teriyaki pizza. You can also add them to a burger. Caramelized onions grace sliders, burgers and pizza. One of three salads is a sturdy caprese with Roma tomatoes, a type I prefer cooked to raw.
The disparate thrift-store décor makes me feel as if I'm eating in my first apartment. The dining room is decorated with portraits of women in hoop skirts and men who graduated in the Eisenhower era; framed rock albums line bathroom walls.
There are times when mediocre food is the best you can hope for. The overly cheesy margherita pizza would be stellar in a hospital cafeteria. Ditto the oily burger with Gruyère and caramelized onions.
At lunch, our server adjusts her earrings, then finger-combs her hair after serving our iced tea. She checks her reflection in a computer monitor before placing our order through, but the attention to appearances stops there. I look down at my bench seat and count 12 dead flies next to me. There are more on the windowsill. On the floor of the restaurant and on the surrounding banquette, I see crust flakes and shriveled pizza toppings from the previous evening. I've enjoyed drinking here at night, when the room is darker and music is spinning, but daylight has illuminated an unflattering portrait.
2907 W. Cary St., 278-9800, portrait-house.com
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Prices: $6 to $12