Not quite there
Hurley’s offers good, simple dishes but lacks pizazz
Hurley’s California Bar & Grill208 Cedar St.
Chico, CA 95928
Behind the Dumpster at Hurley’s sits the old Bunz sign—but aside from the train shot specials, where every time a train goes by on the neighboring tracks a shot goes on special, it’s the only sign that Bunz was ever there.
What used to be Bunz is now Hurley’s California Bar & Grill, and the change may have been too tricky for owner Hurley Baird to master in these opening weeks.
Even if you have no clue where Bunz was you can’t miss Hurley’s—even if you tried. My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough from the extremely bright neon-green roof, so I practically tumbled through the doors to get into the restaurant, located on Cedar Street behind Ray’s Liquor.
Inside, the color scheme is quite the opposite. The blue, gray and beige interior made me feel more like I was in for my annual check-up than a daily fill-up.
The walls are covered with a shade of gray that looks more like primer than paint. And the DIY painted-cloud effect in the center room is serene but would be better suited for a nursery. The full bar and two flat-screen televisions, usually set to an ESPN channel, bring the room’s theme back to that of a bar and grill.
Looking at the menu I quickly ruled out several dishes like Chicken Jerusalem ($12.95) and The Basic 6-ounce Burger ($6.95), since beef and chicken aren’t part of my diet. But I was in luck because Hurley’s is one of the few bar and grills in Chico to have ahi tuna as a regular menu item. A couple of weeks ago, I tried the Ahi Tiki tacos ($6.95). The flavorless tuna was drowning in a sea of cabbage, and I left the restaurant feeling unfulfilled. But, in my world, ahi always gets a second chance. The seared Aloha Ahi sandwich and fries ($8.95) would be perfect for a late lunch on a Friday afternoon.
Waiting for the food to arrive was too much fun—seriously.
Instead of tablecloths or placemats, the tables are covered with white butcher paper. And the box of Crayola crayons sitting next to the salt and pepper shakers let me know it was time to doodle my way to lunch.
I should have ordered one of the unique appetizers like the Poi Pu Pineapple Smoker ($7.95) or Bleu Cheese Kettle Chips ($5.95), but I was focused on sinking my teeth into a juicy piece of ahi. I wish it would’ve taken longer than nine minutes to receive my order because I was almost positive the kindergarten-style daisies I was drawing could’ve been a masterpiece.
The same goes for my lunch; it could’ve been a masterpiece.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from Martha Stewart, and hopefully Hurley will, too, it’s that presentation is key for a “pleasant dining experience.” Something to garnish the dish would have been as nice a touch as the butcher paper on the table.
My piece of ahi tuna wasn’t too lonely. Besides the warm, soft and buttery artisan hamburger roll, the fish was served medium-rare, paired with some Asian coleslaw and drizzled with Hurley’s house dressing. My first bite came with a bit of a surprise. What seemed like a sophisticated version of my “slip-a-chip” into a sandwich turned out to be crunchy almond wontons. The bites that followed were filled with simple, sweet and salty bursts of flavor.
The lunch rush had just ended, so the restaurant was quiet enough for me to enjoy music on XM Satellite Radio. Although the waitress checked up on me several times, Baird came over to personally ensure the meal was to my liking. He’s the head cook, and he likes receiving feedback from all of his customers. Hopefully, he soaks up the feedback and tweaks the restaurant and the menu in the coming months.
Alas, the masterpieces that could’ve been. Good and simple dishes, jazzed up with nothing but trendy menu descriptions and a drab environment make the neon-green rooftop more exciting than anything else.