Bailey’s on the Beach
The concept of Bailey’s on the Beach, at Central and Girard, seems to put some people off at first, most notably because it’s not situated on a beach. On the other hand, “Bailey’s on the Taco Bell Parking Lot” doesn’t have the same ring. In any case, a few minutes on the restaurant’s third story deck at sunset will earn Bailey’s the benefit of the doubt.
The restaurant appears to be the product of a creative, detail-oriented mind with ADD, and it's difficult to keep track of all the stuff going on there. A sign above the front door announces Cocoa Flora, a chocolate and wine bar set to open later this year in a connected space. In the corner to the left as you walk in is a stacked pile of glassware that looks like an organic chemistry apparatus in which cold-drip coffee is made. A sign claims it has 67 percent less acid than regular drip. It's served cold or steamed.
The ground floor is dominated by blues and greens, as if underwater—a feeling enhanced by round, blue stools that look like suckers from a giant tentacle. The west wall has a wavy finish that changes colors under shifting lights. By the ice cream cooler is a mirror constantly washed by a thin sheet of water. Sea shells sit on shelves.
Behind the ordering counter is a tiny open kitchen that somehow supports the diverse menu. Portions are on the small side, but fairly priced—nothing exceeds $8. It’s what you might want from a tapas bar but rarely get: supersized hors d’oeuvres that easily double as small entrées. The one thing that prevents me from loving this place as much as I wish I could is its willingness to use disposable ware for dine-in orders. Given such a small kitchen, choices and calculations had to be made. But food like this deserves real tableware.
The beach theme finds its way into the dining experience in whimsical ways. The pasta dishes are made of organic, shell-shaped noodles. Large baked shells stuffed with a chunky mix of baby clams and bread crumbs come to life after a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Shark Attack hot sauce. Pinot Noir shells are drenched in a thin but potent red wine sauce that soaks into grilled veggies and pools in the shells’ inner curves, mixing with molten Parmesan cheese.
It’s what you might want from a tapas bar but rarely get: supersized hors d’oeuvres that easily double as small entrées.
The salads are made with feeling. House-made dressings, like poppy seed and Cabernet vinaigrette, drench cradle-robbed spinach leaves and mesclun greens, as well as avocado, nuts, asparagus, roasted potatoes and other veggies. All the salads are accompanied by tasty slices of grilled ciabatta.
The seafood stew, a Cabernet bouillabaisse, is chunky and tastes like the sea. Fish tacos bear generous chunks of mahimahi and avocado, and are flanked by a dish of creamy papaya coleslaw. Bailey’s “beach burger” contains caramelized onions, jack cheese and double-roasted green chile on a quality ciabatta bun. At first glance I lamented its lack of lettuce and tomato, but the default condiments worked beautifully, allowing the sweet browned onions and green chile to interact without distraction amid juicy bites of burger patty.
The third-floor deck practically demands a leisure drink. Music, tending toward ’70s R & B, is piped in. Many umbrellas shade an eclectic assortment of patio and beach furniture. There’s also a high lifeguard chair, in addition to the obligatory surfboard leaning against the wall—but by this time, even the most cynical will agree that Bailey’s gets away with the beach gimmick.
A diversity of beverages completes the deck experience, including bottled Hawaiian beers, mimosas (during brunch) and wine Margaritas. The alcohol-free drinks are equally numerous, like the “frozen tight bikini shake,” a slushy, quenching blend of fruit that's colored green by spinach leaves. There’s also an intriguing selection of bottled infused waters—I like the cucumber lemongrass. The house ice tea is strong and refreshingly unsweetened. Only a little sweeter is the "green flash vanilla limonada," named after quasi-mythical final green drop of light released by the sun setting into the ocean. Your chances of seeing the green flash from the deck of Bailey's on the Beach are only slightly less than if you were at a real beach. If only they could rename Taco Bell "Taco Shell."