Capitol Hill's Oddfellows Hall. Flickr photo by <a href=

Capitol Hill's Oddfellows Hall. Flickr photo by LookatLao.

There’s a story in Saturday’s New York Times about a Beacon, NY, a blue-collar city whose downtown was wiped out when industry (Nabisco, etc.) pulled out. But, they bounced back. And downtown’s low-rent, historic brick buildings became magnets for art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Sounds great, no? It sounds a lot like the downtown Bremerton of not so few dreams, eh? But, the parties over. Almost.

Beacon’s taken a beating in the recession. Fewer tourists are coming into town. Fewer locals are going out to eat. And town’s rebound is on the verge of deflating. Perhaps they hit at just the wrong time. And perhaps Bremerton will come of age right as the economy’s picking up. With Ron Sher on the line for a the Penny’s building, and empty condos on the waterfront, it’s not such a crazy idea. But, here’s what catches my eye about Jodi Rudoren’s NYT piece:

A couple of brave entrepreneurs, including Poppy’s, a grass-fed burger shack, and Isamu, which serves sushi and Chinese food, have even opened in recent weeks.

There are a couple of bright spots: At Homespun Foods, where everything on the menu is under $10, sales rose 12 percent in January (“People are still going out for that chocolate chip cookie,” said Jessica Reisman, the chef-owner.) and Artisan Wine Shop has sold 10 percent more bottles in 2009 than at this point last year (though the average bottle price is down 8 percent).

Enter The Patio (and, sort of, the rest of Manette).

Friday night our party of six made our entrance around 7:45 p.m. (When we left just after 9:30, we’d been alone for quite some time.) While I pontificated on their small, but decent beer selection, I noticed something interesting about the seven meals served around us: four of them were cheeseburgers.

The Patio’s cheeseburger is factory-packed, generic, and can be ordered with a delicious side salad. It’s plain. It’s uneventful. And at $10, it’s the cheapest entree on the menu. The rest of the dinner offerings range from good but expensive salads in the mid-teens (the chicken chop is $14) and steak in the $20+ range. Are the entrees worth it? Probably. But, if I’m going to sit in a chilly room (sweaters are mandatory) in East Bremerton, I don’t want to drop $20 on dinner and ogle at your wine selection. I want conversation, good beer, and a $10 dinner. Obviously, I wasn’t alone. But there are only so many times I can chow down a $10 burger that’s not as good as what I get at McCormick & Schmick’s for $1.95 during happy hour.

The Patio’s one the latest of three restaurants in the neighborhood living on this price point. Chris Bortisser’s August Wynn, and fine dining stalwarts at La Fermata being the other two (oh, right, and the Boat Shed). Can Manette/Bremerton support all three? I don’t know. But, I can’t afford it. I can afford the $10 cheeseburger, though. And Beacon’s new burger shack is sounding really good right about now. So does a charcuterie plate at Capitol Hill’s Oddfellows Cafe + Bar, the hipsters’ latest hang is strong in the $8-$12 range, boats a hoppy selection of handles, and is the neighborhood’s latest meeting place of choice in a neighborhood full of meeting places.

“I’ve also eaten dishes at Oddfellows so good I was surprised to spend only $10–$13 on them,” says Seattle Weekly food critic Jonathan Kauffman.

It’s not that I don’t want to go out to eat. Quite the contrary, in fact. But, if all you’re serving at my level is mediocre $10 cheeseburgers, I can’t do it. Perhaps rather than three attempts at high(er) end dining in the neighborhood, we too could enjoy a neighborhood meeting place with affordable plates with personality.

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