November 5, 2009 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham: Restaurant Review

Bookies takes bar food upward

The menu at Bookies Bar & Grille includes baked brie with raisin and apple chutney. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)

The classic bar and grill comes in several varieties.

There's the dusty neighborhood spot, with patrons who look as if they came with the building. There's the trendy style, with an upscale menu and a decorator setting, and then there's the sports bar with its focus on the Big Game on multiple television screens.

Bookies Bar & Grille, the Cass Avenue successor to the original Bookies Tavern in the Book Building, seems to have taken all the variations of the genre and rolled them into one.

The setting includes a first-floor dining room and bar, where black-and-white photos of Prohibition-era scenes deck the walls, and graceful chandeliers hang from the two-story ceiling. That high ceiling makes it airy enough to mitigate if not quite eliminate the smoke factor.

Comfortable high-back chairs are pulled up to the bar-style tables that are, surprisingly, candlelit in the evening, and to the bar itself, with alternate seating at a small row of booths along the windows (that, by the way, is the nonsmoking section).

A spiral staircase leads to the DJ booth perched almost at ceiling level. And the requisite number of TV screens dot the room. Is everybody happy? It seems that on-premises proprietors J. Lambrecht and Mark Jerant have thought of everything.

John Rodemich is the experienced chef they put in charge of an all-day menu that takes bar food a step upward. Some of the most interesting items are on the appetizer menu, which includes several variations on the chicken wing theme.

The wings come apple barbecue style, spicy Buffalo and just plain, with a choice of blue cheese or ranch dipping sauce, and the little appendages are among the best around.

Sliders on plump little buns come in such options as barbecued pork; bacon and cheddar; cod; or bacon, avocado, tomato and mayonnaise, known as the BAT. All are served in multiples of three.

No self-respecting bar and grill could survive without burgers and fries, and here the beef is Angus, in half-pound portions, with enough toppings and sauces to allow patrons to create their own custom versions.

While these are among the most popular dishes, the kitchen also does a nice job with the small list of entrees, such as walnut-encrusted chicken with mango salsa, rice pilaf and roasted vegetables, New York strip steak and create-your-own pastas.

To accompany the fare, there's a small but well-selected wine list and an array of beers, along with specialty cocktails, and happy hour specials every day from 4 to 7 p.m.

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Bookies has a first-floor dining room and bar. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)