810 W. Peabody St.
Review Date: (prior to 1997)
Pop's occupies the old Durham Laundry building, which explains the unusual decor. The host's station is some contraption salvaged from the laundry works, and the bars -- there are two, with one bordering a cooking area -- are glass-encased wheeled conveyor belts. Way up in the rafters are huge old pipes. One big room, packed with tables, tables clothed in brown butcher's paper (but alas, no crayons), the collective din of chatting diners echoing off the bare brick walls. It is Yuppie Chic: contrived informality... but hey, the food is great and we had a good time.
We gave the food high marks, although there wasn't really all that much for us to choose from. Of seven appetizers, three were veggie. The Herb Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms ($4.95) was either great or bland, depending on whom you believe. The House Salad with mixed baby lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette ($3.50) was excellent. Before we even ordered, they dumped crusty hunks of fresh ciabatta all around on our papered table. If the noise and crowd escaped you, this touch unmistakably set the tone for the meal: relax, eat well, have fun.
We tried their pizza (grilled veggie with goat cheese, $8.50) and it was quite popular. You see this typically Italian fare more and more at trendy places -- thin crust, interesting veggie toppings (here, thinly-sliced sauteed squash and onions, red pepper, 'shrooms, feta), no tomato sauce. I do eat cheese, and I found the pizza scrumptious: creamy, crunchy, tasty. John Meckley tried the schiatiatta (three-cheese stuffed pizza, $7.95). "Really good, but I'm a sucker for feta cheese." The accompanying arugula salad he also found "very good."
Only two of their offered entrees were veggie or vegan. Meg Gallagher's lasagne was "the best of the selections I tried." (I didn't sample it but it looked wonderful.) There was also a foccacia sandwich with grilled veggies ($5.95) which, inexplicably, we didn't order. Liz Nulton wrangled a polenta dish which she really enjoyed. She was impressed that it was made without chicken broth. (Her entree does not appear on the menu I have.)
The Chef visited our table and seemed genuinely interested in our comments and our vegetarian experience. He knew the difference between "vegan" and "vegetarian", which he ought to, but we did give him points for that. He explained that the menu is changeable and vegetable dishes are more numerous in season. The previous month, he said, there had been more.
There were four veggie sides ($2.95 each). The "garlicky greens" (Swiss chard and spinach) were definitely green and definitely garlicky. The Tuscan Fries (glorified french fries), fresh, were also good. Liz Nulton found the wood-oven roasted veggies very good. No one ordered the fourth side, slow cooked white beans. (If I had to guess, though, I'd say they'd be...good.)
We liked Pop's. While the veggie selection on any given menu is short, everything we tried was good, if not great. Liz liked the atmosphere: "Very contemporary and upbeat, though a bit noisy." Linda Meckley loved the food, was glad to meet the Chef, and decided "the restaurant was a good place to be, a lively and happening place with an eclectic crowd." John gave the food a "5", and he liked the brown paper on the table. His biggest complaint: "Where were the crayons?"