ATLANTIC CITY - Prominently situated at the corner of Indiana Avenue and the Boardwalk - with a gigantic billboard above it that nobody can miss - Megan's Good Grub & Pub has an ideal location with a terrific view of the ocean and the Boardwalk bustle. It's been a long time since I've eaten at a resort restaurant that's not located inside a casino, and it reminded me that there are, in fact, other choices when thinking about where to go here.
From the decor to the menu, it's eclectic and comfy - a fun place to eat, drink and relax. The concept focuses on quirkiness. Nowhere else have I seen a cluster of Barbie dolls hanging on a brick-lined wall next to classic-rock vinyl records and all kinds of other bric-a-brac. Someone had a sense of humor about design. Even though I've seen it before, brown-paper covering white tablecloths adds another touch of whimsy.
From where we sat, my dining guest and I had a bird's eye view of an exposed kitchen where cooks did their thing in a flurry of activity, which is always entertaining to watch.
Our server was delightful - well-versed about the foods, and very accommodating. She went out of her way to bring us a warm loaf of luscious cranberry-walnut bread with butter, which we devoured after we opted to pass on the chef's "flatbread du jour" because we didn't care for its topping (our personal taste, not a reflection of its quality).
When we perused the menu, we decided to go for things we don't normally eat. We wanted to indulge, so the first appetizer we had (referred to as small grub) was my favorite part of the meal. Crispy pork wings ($10), a takeoff on spicy chicken wings, were actually thighs, slightly peeled from the bone, and served with celery stalks and buffalo-blue cheese fondue: creamy blue-cheese dressing mixed with hot sauce. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and oh-so-yummy! This little ditty was exactly what we were in the mood for.
Because we rarely find it around here, we had to order the shrimp and grits ($13) with crayfish, roasted corn, cheddar cheese and Creole chili oil. We liked the pearly texture of the grits and its zesty, cheddary flavor. The seafood, however, was borderline chewy, but not enough to stop us from enjoying it and appreciating the chef's effort to bring a southern staple to the New Jersey shore.
Our main courses (big grub) arrived way too soon. We were only halfway through our starters. This, of course, was not our server's fault, but she could have told the kitchen staff to hold off until we were ready. We were faced with four plates of food at once, but fortunately the entrees were piping hot, so we had time to finish the appetizers.
We were on a pork roll (pun intended) when we chose the dry-rubbed baby-back ribs with sweet chili-barbecue sauce ($19). Two small, delicious racks perched on a mound of shoestring fries came with smoked apple slaw. Although good, the slaw didn't wow us, but it proved to be a refreshing and appropriate accompaniment. We especially liked the skinniness of the fries.
The shepherd's pie ($23) had nice ingredients, but we had trouble with it. A casserole dish was piled high with large hunks of free-range turkey, crisp, whole green beans, button mushrooms, and a smattering of corn kernels topped with generous dollops of whipped potatoes and melted cheddar cheese. This seems like a recipe for success, but it faltered in several ways.
It would have been much easier to eat if the turkey and string beans had been cut into smaller pieces. I love al dente vegetables, but in this case, I would have preferred them softer and to be able to scoop them up with my fork instead of needing to use a knife. The same goes for the turkey. Plus, everything came floating in liquid instead of thickened gravy. Every chef is entitled to his or her own twist on tradition, but maybe a little tweaking is in order here.
For dessert, we had a triple-chocolate cupcake and a red-velvet cupcake with cream-cheese frosting ($3) that out server did not hesitate to tell us came from Formica's Bakery (and I'm pretty certain the bread hailed from there as well). If you have to outsource baked goods, using Formica's is dandy.
Aside from a few culinary hiccups, the entire package works. We had a great time. Megan's lives up to its name - good grub and pub!
(Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
Megan's Good Grub
Hours: Open noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Liquor license: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Small grub, $6 to $13; big grub, $16 to 24
Our bill for two: $71 plus tip