Midtown Cafe, Santa Rosa

Bill Cordell hosts a nightly pop-up called After 5

Remember the basement rumpus room…that shag-rug den of wonder? It was awesome until you started inviting people. Suddenly you’ve got the fat kid spilling Orange Crush, the weird kid picking his nose and scratching up your 45s and that annoying girl from down the block parading her friends through. Ugh.

Let’s just call the Midtown Cafe the newest rumpus room in Santa Rosa. But by telling you, but I’m expecting you not to f-it up.

A pop-up within the Midtown Cafe on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, “After 5” the newest project of Superburger’s Bill Cordell. Come dusk, the barbecue gets ‘queing, the beer starts flowing and the yam tots start frying.

If you made it to Blue Label at the Belvedere before it vanished into the ether, you’ll get the vibe immediately. The old pinball board hangs on the wall, vintage tunes play and a Magic Eight Ball sits on the table waiting to tell your future. Like Blue Label, here, the menu is an eclectic a mash-up of old school comfort food, salty-fried bits, funked-up burgers and imaginative entrees from Cordell and Neil Allensworth (a Blue Label alum) who are obviously having fun with their food.

Start the night with grazers like a homemade sirloin meatball with melted gorgonzola in the center, simmered in North African marinara ($6); Chinese BBQ sweet cherry pork sliders ($5) on Hawaiian rolls; or yam tats with tamarind sauce ($5).

Salads include a blue cheese wedge with bacon and “fun garnish” ($6/$12 for entree size) or the Tijuana Caesar with shaved ham and a cold soft-boiled egg criss-crossed with anchovy. The dressing misses the raw egg, but makes a solid dipper for your tots.

The best bets for sandwiches are Soda Pop Pulled Pork with apple, pear relish ($11) that’s sweeter than your mom on a Sunday and the tarragon fried chicken sandwich with artichoke garlic mayo ($10).  Mains of ‘que and fried chicken are hearty, with a pound each of either pork ribs or brisket ($14).

Burgers, however, are Bill’s bread and butter. Though it may seem odd to be competing with himself (Santa Rosa’s Original Superburger is directly across the street), Midtown’s are griddled rather than char-grilled and give nods to old Santa Rosa with the Heavenly Hamburger Broiler Burger and the Hotel La Rose Burger with avocado, mushrooms, Swiss and smoked bacon. The French burger sports double cream Brie and caramelized onions. ($10-$14)

You can get the salads and burgers for lunch, but dinner is a better bet when Neil’s in the kitchen. There’s an outdoor patio, wine and beer on tap. Thriller thumps in the background and there’s this feeling that maybe, just maybe, you’ve found the best place on earth for to kick back and have a nosh in the ‘hood.

Just don’t tell the nose-picker kid.

Midtown Cafe After 5, 1422 4th Street  Santa Rosa, 545-2233. Open daily after 5pm. Duh.

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