"This way to one crazy happy hour," said the sidewalk-chalk sign on the pavement outside Republic Kitchen & Bar, which is in Las Vegas but close enough to Henderson to be confusing.
So I had two thoughts, both involving the word "oh." As in "Oh, how fun," and also, "Oh-oh" - the former because, well, who doesn't love sidewalk chalk, and the latter because I was wondering if this was really a serious restaurant.
My reservations continued as I headed inside this place where I didn't have the other kind of reservations. There was a sort of DJ/announcer talking - loudly, with and without serious amplification - about what a great time everyone was having. I was beginning to think a hasty retreat might be a good idea when our server appeared. He seemed so earnest as he talked about the menu, and about the new chef. And then he said, "Do you want me to ask them to turn it down?" I said, no, that's OK, but he said, "I want them to turn it down," and off he went.
And then our drinks arrived and the loud guy made way for a succession of vocalists, kind of folksy and overall quite pleasing (you can see why I'm not a music critic), and I looked around at the mix of ages and thought about how much the Henderson area needs a place like this. And then the food arrived.
Which may sounds like an "aha" moment but actually wasn't. As I would've suspected Republic Kitchen & Bar's menu leans heavily to dishes inspired by traditional bar foods and dishes inspired by traditional comfort foods, such as the "TV dinners" that are reportedly served in divided plates, though not of the aluminum kind. And so we started with Buffalo chicken and pigs in a blanket, but the chicken was in the form of "bites" ($8.99) the meat cut up and mixed with celery and blue cheese and Buffalo sauce and sealed in wonton wrappers, fried and brought to the table in a chrome cone. And the pigs in a blanket were little franks with just a scrap of puff pastry wrapped around each (less is more, in this case), and with a whole-grain mustard and "house-made cheese fondue" that was sort of Wizzy on the side. They weren't haute cuisine, but they were well-executed and appealing.
Pot pie ($14.99) is a certified comfort food, and I liked that the kitchen chose to use turkey instead of the more neutral chicken. And indeed, the chef carried through with a browned-roux base for the sauce that added heft and flavor, a whole bunch of big pieces of mushrooms plus peas and carrots, all of it topped by a pastry dome.
Our waiter told us that the new chef had tweaked the recipe for the short ribs, ($23.99), adding red wine to the braising liquid, which sounded good to us, considering the mellow notes that wine can contribute. We liked the crisp-tender asparagus served with it, and the mound of wasabi potatoes that actually had a nice strong kick (that's a good thing), but the short ribs, while tender, were oddly dry.
So we were glad we stuck with it, despite initial misgivings. The Henderson area does indeed need a place like Republic Kitchen & Bar, for the light-hearted but well-executed food as well as the breath-of-fresh-air entertainment.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or email her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.