Seafood haters, fear not. Despite its name, Calamari’s Squid Row offers something for everyone.
A casual restaurant and bar, Calamari’s has more than 60 menu items, including soups, salads, wings, burgers, steaks and pasta dishes. The cozy environment and friendly servers combined with this better-than-average bar food make it well worth a shot.
Situated at 1317 State St., Calamari’s is just a short walk from campus. Upon entering – even as a returning customer – I was struck by the coziness of the space. Eating in a bar tends to feel like, well, eating in a bar. You know, like the food itself is an afterthought. In a lot of cases it is, but not at Calamari’s.
The alley-style space is evenly divided into separate yet cohesive eating and drinking areas. Brick walls, wooden booths and large front windows create a warm, casual atmosphere. There is also additional seating upstairs and in the adjacent party room.
During warmer months, you’ll want to sit on the patio, situated between Calamari’s and the neighboring building. It isn’t very spacious, and the furnishings are simple and plastic, yet it has a decidedly “urban oasis” feel. The lights strung along the tall brick exterior walls on either side are a lovely touch. Until May, you’re stuck inside, but it isn’t a bad place to be stuck.
For around $7, you have your pick of appetizers – artichoke dip, deep-fried pickles, jalapeno poppers, chicken and steak quesadillas, jumbo pretzels and, of course, calamari. Seven may seem a tad steep, but the portions are sizeable. My friend and I split a basket of piping hot provolone sticks, a tasty alternative to traditional mozzarella. Dipped in marinara sauce, they’re heaven deep-fried.
Sandwich lovers will want to take a look at the oddly named “Groovalicious” part of the menu. Reubens, tuna melts and chicken salad club pita cost just $8 with your choice of side. The blackened chicken sandwich, a spicy blackened chicken breast topped with collard greens and pepper jack cheese, gets high praise from the Urbanspoon junkies. So does the filet croissant, a bed of tenderloin medallions covered in provolone cheese.
If you’re in the mood for wings, you have your plenty of options. In fact, there may be too many choices. Besides the standard mild, hot and honey BBQ, the menu boasts cajun, ranch, Thai chili, bourbon BBQ, teriyaki, jalapeno teriyaki, garlic parmesan and a flavor called “RIP,” among others.
I ultimately opted for the build-you-own burger – any three toppings for $8.75 and 50 cents for each additional.
Having been to Calamari’s in the past, I knew that the French fries were similar to the kind available in a grocery store freezer section – bland, boring and nothing to write home about. Not a big deal, though, because of two words: tater tots.
Outside an elementary school cafeteria, how many places can you order tater tots? Not enough. Calamari’s fills that particular niche. Pro tip: add ranch seasoning. If tots aren’t your favorite, you can pick from onion rings, coleslaw or fresh fruit.
Despite the crowd, I didn’t have to wait long for my dinner. The tater tots were greasy, golden brown perfection, and the burger was the best I’d had in months. To be fair, the last burger I had was part of a value meal from McDonald’s, so my threshold was remarkably low. Even so, Calamari’s was pretty damn good.
The over-21 crowd will appreciate Shooter Saturdays. The bar offers $2 Yeungling bottles 11 a.m. to midnight as well as $2 micros, malts, imports and shots 10 p.m. to midnight. Calamari’s has various other specials every night of the week.
Check out their complete menu and specials list at calamaris-squidrow.com.