The Woods: Meatloaf and a Pint
If the Woods looks like a bar, it's because it's just that. Imagine a long, narrow room the width of three bowling lanes, lit dimly not for romance or mood, but because to have it any brighter would be a buzz kill. There's a digital jukebox and plenty of standing room for when it gets crowded. Before a certain hour, the Woods would be the kind of place you slink into after work, have a quiet pint at the counter, munch on a few complimentary pretzels and then go home to the wife. Closer to midnight, the bar becomes another star in the constellation of downtown Fullerton's watering holes. Since it's new, it's still a couple of years away from being labeled a dive, but aside from the life-size mural of a leafy forest, it already has all the chromosomes to be a good, no-nonsense neighborhood tavern.
The wall-mounted TVs will probably half-hypnotize you, and it's just as well: Whatever you decide to eat here, you probably shouldn't start thinking too much about it. Know that you will be tempted to consume a lot of deep-fried food. Most people start with the Buffalo wings, and they aren't unlike every bar Buffalo wing you've ever had, soaked in the same piquant hot sauce every other place uses, which is to say they're neither bad nor memorable. There are no surprises with the rest of the appetizers. We're talking onion rings, jalapeño poppers, fried zucchini and tater tots. If you're thinking about ordering at least two out of the four, you might as well opt for the sampler, which has all of them served along with some of those wings on a gigantic oblong platter that somehow makes you very conscious of how much fried food you just ordered at once. The rings are heavily breaded; the poppers ooze the usual cream cheese after you breach the crunchy outer shell. The fried zucchini is lightly battered, its hot juices capable of scalding your tongue if you eat it too soon. Yet it's the tater tots you covet. There's an option to have the tots doused in chili, bacon, cheese and onions, but you'll figure you're doing enough damage here just the way they are.
After the Fryolator indulgence of the sampler, you probably won't need the fried pickle spears. The Woods isn't the only bar in downtown Fullerton to offer them, but somehow this rendition is less appetizing than others, with the intensity of pickle juice not tamed but oddly amplified by heat. To offset this and the other fried apps, you may be tempted by the salads, especially the one with cranberries, apples, walnuts, red onions and chicken, but it's the kind of ham-fisted attempt at a salad you expect of a bar—the whole thing not very well composed or easy to eat. The apple slices are fanned out on the edge of the plate as though they were meant to be decorative and the grilled chicken breast meat is unceremoniously plopped atop the iceberg lettuce pieces after being chopped into long strips.
The best dish, you'll be surprised, is the meatloaf. You can opt to have it as a sandwich, but the textbook-thick slab is best served on a dinner plate, topped with not just melted cheese, white gravy, and an onion ring, but also two crispy pieces of bacon. Two sides from an array of choices come with it, but save the fries for the fish and chips. The peas and carrots and the garlic mashed potato are both preordained by fate to be paired with the loaf—a meal with so much warmth and comfort, it fortifies you for the drinking to be done ahead.
A decent burger can also be had here, but the Woods also attempts other sandwiches such as an open-face rib-eye and a Baja fish torta; there's even a chicken-and-waffle sandwich a la Bruxie. The fried hunk of hen is done well, breaded to a ruddy crust, drizzled in a spicy honey sauce and saddled with some coleslaw, but the waffle it's folded under never stood a chance—it's soggy and limp even before it arrives. Also, the house-made potato chips the sandwich can come with are burnt and bitter.
Despite the enthusiastic recommendations of the waitress, it's best to skip the Nutella wontons for dessert. It has a cardboard chew and at times can taste as though the fryer oil it's cooked in hasn't been changed since the Dubya era. Opt instead for another pint, because—let's face it—that's what you should come for.
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