Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar invites different kinds of customers to step through its door at the corner where Allen Street turns into Wadsworth. ¶ Live music lovers, dancers, diners and drinkers are all courted. Looking for a potent cocktail of food, fun and frosty drinks, spiked with diverse live music? Duke’s would like a word with you, because it’s the only place in Allentown that offers a broad live music selection and a full dinner menu. The kitchen serves until 3 a.m. ¶ We were there for the food, during daylight, and chose a patio table out back, where we could feel the breeze and admire the flower boxes of begonias and petunias. The dim interior, with dark wood and beer coolers, said “bar,” but the menu swiftly signaled the kitchen’s ambitions.
Like lobster gnocchi ($14) as a starter, or french fries not only hand-cut, but anointed with tartufo bianco truffle salt ($8). Highlighted by a strong undercurrent of fresh seafood, and I don’t mean haddock, this is not your dad’s bar food.
Raw clams and freshly shucked oysters, two items that many tavern kitchens do not gamble with, are here in force. Soft-shell crab was a special when we visited last month, $18 for two with beurre blanc, sauteed broccolini, roasted root vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes.
Another special, the truffled Angus burger, involved a truffled beef and mushroom patty, truffled arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano, tomato dijon aioli and a fried egg ($14). Gabrielle Alfieri, who owns Duke’s with husband Patrick “Doogie” Duquin, ex-Hutch’s maitre d’, said that burger will survive a menu rewrite taking effect this week.
So will the pride of the appetizer section, the never-fried wings, which are BBQ chicken digits ($11) that have been brined, dry-rubbed, smoked and grilled. We tasted them as part of the Duke’s Pub Sampler ($25), alongside a half-dozen clams casino, eggplant “wings,” four raw oysters and truffle fries.
Those wings had smoky flavor right down to the bone and admirable tenderness. The fried, breaded eggplant batons felt like as much coating as interiors but got gobbled anyway. “You’re getting me to eat eggplant,” Cat pointed out. (Vegetarians might like these and a quesadilla.)
The fries were some of the best I’ve seen this year – crispy but light, well-seasoned while still tasting of potatoes. We finished them, a rare event.
The clams casino surprised with a load of bacon, and the clams underneath the chile-flake-spiked breadcrumb mixture were fresh. The sampler’s oysters, served with shallot mignonette, were spot on: cold, briny, plump to the point of crispness.
The Bohemian salad ($8) was a low-impact way to ingest some foliage, the usual field mix plus goat cheese with a few seedless grapes and pecans, with bracing pickled onions.
For mains, I asked for the soft-shelled crabs, and Cat got that truffled burger.
The crabs arrived perched on a slab of potatoes that were not pasty but did need more flavor. The broccolini had apparently been rolled on the grill for smokiness but had picked up a scorched note along the way. The crabs were cooked expertly in a thin coating that emphasized the crispiness of their post-frying shells. The tangy beurre blanc was beige and thick as gravy.
The burger was a satisfying hunk of ground beef, cooked accurately and exhibiting a decent crust. But between the truffled beef and truffled arugula atop it, I hit truffle oil overload, and I’m usually fairly tolerant. The fried egg perched atop the burger was appropriately runny.
For dessert, we had flourless chocolate torte with ice cream and the chocolate peanut butter crunch bar (both $6). The torte was a big ol’ fudge bomb, no surprise. The crunch bar, two big wedges studded with crunchy, salty pretzels, beat Reese’s cups by a mile. We made sure it left with us.
Service was adequate, with a trainee looking after us part of the way. I noticed a strong spilled beer smell on the patio, which may have been a temporary condition, and I do understand, from extensive experience, that people spill beer in bars. Unfortunately, stale beer in daylight whispers frathouse, even if the menu says gastropub.
The meal we had at Duke’s Bohemian wasn’t perfect, but its menu has some excellent dishes and its treatment of seafood suggests a commendable seriousness of intent.
If you’re looking to have a good meal in Allentown and listen to live music, Duke’s is the place to beat.
Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar: 7 plates (Out of 10)
Fresh seafood, smoked wings, truffled fries alongside live music raise the bar in Allentown.
WHERE: 253 Allen St. (240-9359, dukesbohemiangrovebar.com)
HOURS: 5 p.m to 3 a.m., seven days a week.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $8-$13; burgers and sandwiches, $10-$15; entrees, $10-$25.
PARKING: On the street; small lot across street.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.