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Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2001

Word of Mouth: Nothin’ but a G. thang

Sandwiches and fried stuff make G. Willikers Deli & Bar a familiar downtown spot

July 5, 2001

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Zowie! Sandwiches!

Golly! Beer!

G. Willikers Deli & Bar, 733 Mass., serves inexpensive
sandwiches and salads.

G. Willikers Deli & Bar, 733 Mass., serves inexpensive sandwiches and salads.

Holy bar games! It's ... electronic darts!

The name may be exclamatory, but really, there's not that much to get excited about at G. Willikers Deli & Bar. Basically a case study in college town predictability, it's a place that dutifully serves the revolving customer base of Kansas University. It's somewhere to meet friends, eat food and drink beer, but, depending on the quality of your friends, only one of these activities holds the promise of greatness.

A hole-in-the-wall restaurant/bar, G. Willikers opts for the conventional design of a bar up one side and booths down the other. The menu is unimaginative but inexpensive; the beer is standard but not inexpensive; the food is merely adequate; the ambiance begins and ends with the funky lampshades. But it was somewhat amusing watching two guys read the directions for playing darts, and, if nothing else, the service was really good.

Our witty and wisecracking waiter softened us up immediately. "Just drinking, or are you here To Dine?" he asked, just a touch sardonically. Menus are on the table to read at your leisure; mostly they offer sandwiches, a few salads and soup, but they also make hamburgers which are not listed on the menu. The waiter gestured to a table placard with a list of additional appetizers. "We also have these fried things," he informed us.

Offer me a fried thing and I am sold. I tried the mozzarella sticks, which came with marinara sauce. They didn't transport me to a greasy heaven, but I always have room for a quickie of fried saltiness to tide me over until dinner.

On the menu

From the sandwich column I chose the barbecued beef: barbecue sauce and pepperjack cheese gave this a nice kick, but it's also the kind of sandwich best eaten hot and swallowed fast, lest you think about it too much and notice the rather chewy meat buried under that barbecue sauce. It came on "pesto bread," but the pesto taste was virtually undetectable. This absence of taste was a recurring problem. Although some of the items on the menu sounded interesting, in actuality they were not. Take the mesquite chicken sandwich: the overall flavor was all right, but mesquite was not an identifiable part of the mix.

Palatable enough was the B.L.T., which I ordered on sourdough since G. Willikers, impossibly, has no white bread. The sourness of the sourdough would make any San Franciscan laugh I guess they do have white bread, in a way but the rest of it tasted fine.

The Veg G sandwich, though (as opposed to the carnivorous Golly G, with roast beef and turkey) was fairly good, with three cheeses, several vegetables and the obligatory sprouts. Zesty and unique it wasn't, but it delivered in a straightforward, hold-the-special-sauce-but-load-on-the-mayo kind of way.

I couldn't help but chuckle at the "special." Not a true special, this was actually one of the regular sandwiches the French Dip on my visit slightly reduced in price. It was not, sad to report, worth it even at the lower price. I took one bite of this sandwich before tossing it away, and even that one bite was an exercise in professional control. The thin strips of meat had bad color and taste, bringing into question its freshness, and the layers of mayonnaise only contributed to its unappetizing appearance and flavor. Something about mayonnaise au jus doesn't sit well with me.

Salads were a toss-up. The chef's was palatable, relying on iceberg lettuce and decent chopped meats and veggies; the side salad available with the sandwiches, however, was a joke. The lettuce, iceberg again, was practically white, the tomato barely colored and the blue cheese dressing thin and flavor-weak. As for the potato salad, my companion poked her fork in and proclaimed, "I think it's from Dillon's." Not that there's anything wrong with Dillon's potato salad, but when you're eating out, you want something else.

The eatery does its dishwasher a favor, but not its image, serving food in papered baskets instead of real dishes, with side dishes served in styrofoam. It is convenient, but G. Willikers doesn't radiate enough personality on its own to pull off this approach as sporty, rather than just lazy.

G. Willikers would perhaps function best as a neighborhood bar, where its lack of distinguishing characteristics would be unnoticed, or at least unimportant. But this restaurant happens to be located on Lawrence's premier drag, where better choices are mere doors away. Doubtless the critical mass of Mass. Street helps G. Willikers survive. It also makes it easier to keep walking.

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