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Cheap Eats: Boiler Room Bar & Grill

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The Boiler Room Bar & Grill / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Boiler Room Bar & Grill / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Boiler Room Bar & Grill
5600 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton
792-7176
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.

Boiler Room's house salad / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

Boiler Room's house salad / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

If Derek Barnes says a place is good, I tend to believe him.

Late last year, while working on a feature story about the talented chef and his transition from Sarasota's fine dining scene to his new, more approachable digs in Bradenton, I met with Barnes at the future home of his new restaurant. We talked about his career and his new food philosophy, but I also couldn't help but ask him about his new neighbor: the Boiler Room Bar & Grill. The restaurant sits directly to the west of the new Derek's and while it looks like nothing special from the outside — just a plain white hut with a green roof — its sign was tantalizing: "Home of the... Famous Steak Sandwiches."

How are they, really? I asked. Barnes' answer: tasty. I was sold.

On a Friday night months later, the family and I hit up the Boiler during happy hour. The place is a dive, no doubt about it, but it's not lacking in charm. A Golden Tee Complete machine shows replays of spectacular putts next to a neon red "Bud on Tap" sign, while a TouchTunes digital jukebox nearby flashes with Mary J Blige and Blues Traveler album covers. Inflatable footballs and NASCAR and Formula 1 racers hang from browning ceiling tiles, jostling for space with Kevin Harvick flag bunting. A Sharp TV is running a "Pardon the Interruption" segment on LeBron.

Boiler Room's cheeseburger / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

Boiler Room's cheeseburger / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

Over at the bar a half-dozen folks who look relieved to be done with work for the week shoot the breeze and sip $1 drafts. On the other side of the Bud and Coors handles, a deep-fryer and a flattop sizzle away. Foosball and pool tables dominate the middle of the room, while red-glass lamps, reminiscent of pizzerias, dangle over the booths on the opposite side.

Based on all that, I bet you can guess the contents of the menu. There's that steak sandwich, of course, but also burgers, wings, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and subs, with a variety of "munchies" to boot. The usual, in other words. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. My wife's house salad ($5) features pale iceberg lettuce, some surprisingly red tomato wedges, some thin slivers of red onion and that's it. (Well, except for the ranch.)

Her cheeseburger ($5.50, $9.50 with fries and a drink) is similarly classic: just a nicely caramelized disc of meat, draped with cheddar and stuck in a bun. While the burger is overcooked (there are no temperature options), the beef retains its juice. A big bite splatters all over the white wax paper that coats the baskets in which the food arrives. The French fries on the side are a particular highlight. Cut thin, their skin has a lovely crispness, while the potato itself remains airy and light. The grilled chicken breast sandwich ($6) presents no surprises, either, but the meat again is soft and juicy — far, far removed from the bone-dry breasts common at many other spots.

Boiler Room's ribeye steak sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Boiler Room's ribeye steak sandwich / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

So about that steak sandwich... The Boiler bills its feature item ($6-$8) as a "ribeye cheese steak," but in truth I can't tell whether the beef is ribeye or not. As is usual with a cheesesteak, it comes out chopped into tiny bits, caramelized around the edges. Ordered "all the way," the sandwich contains the protein, cheese and sautéed green peppers, onions and mushrooms. Does it deserve to be dubbed "famous"? I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's satisfying, and I can absolutely testify to the appeal of kicking back at the Boiler with a steak sammie and a cold one after a long week of hard work.

Surprise, surprise: Derek Barnes knows what he's talking about.

Last modified: June 9, 2014
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