Ah, Chilkoot Charlie's: Journey cover bands, trance DJs, a swing bar and hardcore punk co-habiting in an endlessly eclectic playlist. It is full of surprises, which is why drinkers of all ages and demographics love it. When my editor told me that a barbecue joint had opened where Geno and Sal's used to be, I wondered what kind of surprise awaited me.
My husband and I scoped the menu online before placing an order to go. Half-racks and full orders of two types of ribs ($17-$30) definitely bolstered the options, and mini tacos ($4), quesadillas ($9) and nachos ($10) let pitmaster Chris Sanchez throw in some of his personal flair. The steak or chicken wedge salad ($10), a tower of crunchy iceberg lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese and crispy onion straws, flaunts itself on the front page, but I couldn't bring myself to order a salad at a bar.
I called in my order: a large "garbage pail" pizza ($20) and a Thai chicken wrap ($10), the special that day. It was Saturday night and a Johnny Cash tribute show was headlining. Even though Koot's was packed, the woman on the phone answered all of my questions patiently and was very friendly -- points for phone etiquette, an increasingly neglected art.
Sanchez tosses the dough to order, and while the crust was nice and thin, it did lack the golden burnish that an intensely hot pizza oven can deliver. The resulting crust was a little anemic around the edges, but the mash-up of pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, jalapenos, olives, pineapple, peppers, mushrooms and onions packed a punch. My husband and I thought there could have been more cheese, but that's pretty much our consensus on everything.
We both liked the wrap, a flavorful but not overpowering concoction of marinated chicken, crisp veggies and perfectly seasoned sauce. Sancho's specials are varied and diverse. Sanchez has trotted out rockfish tacos, pozole verde and Philly cheese-steaks, even offering up vegan and vegetarian options.
For my next visit, I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and saw that breakfast/ brunch dishes are also available. On this particular day, a chanterelle mushroom and goat cheese frittata ($10) caught my eye. Another surprise! But alas, I had just eaten a chicken-fried steak, so I went with a pulled pork sandwich ($12) to go, per Sanchez's recommendation. The plate he handed me was surprisingly heavy, and I could see why when I unwrapped it; there was enough pulled pork on the sandwich to make another sandwich.
The pork was tender, no doubt about that. Soft bread, check. The dry rub was subtle and complementary, with a smattering of barbecue sauce and the crunch of coleslaw to round out the simple but satisfying sandwich. A variety of sides are offered with the meals, but I recommend the onion straws. A handful of those bad boys on top complete the textural extravaganza.
Sancho's food was a step up from what I expected, but the dining atmosphere leaves a little to be desired. On the one hand, I didn't want to fight the crowds on a busy weekend night, and on the other, it felt weird to be eating at Koot's on a Sunday afternoon. And that's when I got my last surprise -- I'm too old to be at Koot's!
Don't let my advanced years prevent you from trying out a tasty sandwich or Sanchez's intriguing specials. The next time you find yourself at Koot's, perhaps for $2 beers or a Papa Roach show, check out Sancho's surprises. I'll see you there when they do a '90s hip-hop revival.
By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent