Thursday, June 3, 2010


Wouldn't you like to get away where everybody knows your name? How about a place where everybody knows what you like to drink as well? Both are hallmarks of Gasoline Alley in Niles, where you're a "regular" if you've been there a couple of times. All we have to do is grab a booth, and almost before we're settled in our seats, a smiling server -- who most likely is the bartender as well -- is on the way with a Sam Adams, a Michelob Ultra and one glass (the latter two for me).

Of course, that's a small problem if you've decided on something else that day -- once in a Blue Moon I prefer one of those, and occasionally a Bud Lite Lime sounds appealing. When that's the case, be forewarned that you need to yell out your change in drinking habits early on!

Gasoline Alley basically is a fun neighborhood pub and a popular gathering place for friends; a bar takes up most of one side of the place
, with booths on the other side and a row of small round tables in the center aisle (and yes, it can get a bit crowded and noisy, especially in the evenings). There's nothing on tap here, by the way; for beer, it's bottles only, but there's a full bar. A couple of TV sets are always going, menus are on each table and a big whiteboard on the wall lists daily specials. The decor is decidedly, well, gasoline -- old license plates cover the walls and old-time gasoline company neon signs hang from the ceiling like Polly Gas and Johnson Gasolene. At the back, there are a few additional booths and a couple of full-size, though presumably nonworking, gas pumps.

Neighborhood bar notwithstanding, Gasoline Alley has a reputation for great food -- definitely the primary reason my husband Jack and I stop here at least once a week (well, that and the fact that it's very close to home). The Alley is best known for burgers, chili and wings; the latter two have won awards. Those items also are among our "standards," although we've been known to venture away from those to try one of the daily specials, like a delicious green pepper and egg sandwich on a sub-style bun ($3.75). Another favorite that's offered occasionally is sloppy joes -- they're quite delicious, so if you see them on the specials board, don't hesitate to dive in.

My usual burger is the Hot Rod, a bacon cheeseburger with hot pepper cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The full platter, with a side of those wonderful Idora Park-style fries that are best when sprinkled with vinegar, is $6.50. Jack's burger of choice is the Alley Platter, 1/4-lb. burger with grilled onions and melted cheddar cheese (the platter, with fries, also is $6.50). The chili dogs are delicious too -- topped with New Castle dog sauce -- and at just $1.75 we can pig out on two or three. If we're really hungry, we'll add an order of those Idora-style fries, which are topped with crumbled bacon, green onions and melted cheddar cheese -- it's so big we've never been able to finish it.

The clam chowder ($2.75) is quite good here as well, but I'm partial to that award-winning chili. A 12-oz. bowl is $3.35 and so thick and meaty that it makes a meal in and of itself -- absolutely perfect on a cold winter day. I had a big bowl, in fact, on the way home from the movies to see "Sherlock Holmes" back on Dec. 13 (it was about 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon and the place was almost completely filled -- yes, this is a popular place). Still another favorite of mine is the Cincinnati chili, or spaghetti topped with chili just like I used to love when I was growing up in southwestern Ohio not far from Cincy ($7.75 gets you a huge plate of the stuff plus a large slice of yummy toasted, buttered garlic bread).

Still another of Jack's favorite sandwiches is the plain old BLT -- a very basic sandwich but one they do well here. He always asks for, and gets, the bacon crisp, very little lettuce and lots of mayo. One of my picks that was on the specials-of-the-day board is a bourbon chicken sandwich with fries; the bourbon sauce was especially delicious, so I hope to see that one back on the board soon.

The wings here are truly special; large, plump and juicy with plenty of great-tasting sauce choices. Our favorites are, in rank order, garlic butter, Louisiana garlic butter and teriyaki. Usually, we get two different flavors, 10 of each for $6.25. Buckets of 50 go for $25, and I should note that there's always someone at the counter picking up a take-out order. My guess is that wings are by far the most popular item on the menu, but plenty of other choices -- including a substantial list of appetizers like deep fried veggies and mac-and-cheese bites and tasty sandwiches -- are yours for the asking as well. You won't need to raid your kids' piggy banks to eat here, either; the prices are among the most reasonable you'll find anywhere.

If you're going for the first time, you won't go wrong by ordering chili, wings or burgers -- always on the menu and always delicious. But when you go back, don't hesitate to be a bit more adventurous and try a different kind of sandwich -- say the hot sausage or a couple of those chili dogs with New Castle sauce -- or one of the daily specials. You'll be glad you came!

If you go: Gasoline Alley
500 Vienna Ave.
Niles, Ohio 44446
(330) 652-0555