Why: Billy Blues Bar and Grill is in the space where Halftime Bar and Grill operated for many years. Opened under new ownership on Christmas of 2013, Billy Blues is a place that welcomes families all day until 9 p.m. There is plenty of room for large groups, and you can expect a full house on Ultimate Fighting Championship fight nights, when the fights are broadcast on several large-screen TVs. The menu offers choice steak house selections and American fare with a variety of Southern, Cajun, Italian, and soul food to choose from as well.
Atmosphere: The focus is on food and service and not so much on creating a new restaurant. Other than the new signage outside and all the pool tables now located at one end of the space inside, everything is mostly unchanged. Seating is mostly tables and chairs with a bench along part of the perimeter. Surfaces are dark and lighting is kept low, which lends to a more subdued atmosphere during the daytime and bar-friendly atmosphere during the evening hours. Overall, the space is comfortable, uncluttered and well kept.
What I Tried: I settled on the chicken enchilada with salad, and my dining companion had the filet mignon and added a cup of clam chowder to his entrée. To start, we ordered the steak fingers.
The steak fingers were an interesting deep-fried assembly of steak strips, approximately a half-inch thick, coated in a chicken-finger type of batter. They were served with barbecue sauce (ranch dip is available as well). I am not sure if it was the batter or the deep-frying that canceled out the steak flavor. Every bite reminded me of McDonald's chicken nuggets, which I had once upon a time (I admit to this for the sake of comparison). I guess Billy Blue's steak fingers may serve as a solid meat substitute for the iconic fast food product, and at $8.99 the portion is liberal.
The chowder and salad arrived at a timely interval between the appetizer and entrées. The chowder, New England style and made fresh daily, was piping hot. It had a generous amount of clam bits suspended in a nice creamy broth, which had a distinct rosemary essence — unusual for clam chowder, but it worked. The salad consisted mostly of iceberg lettuce and was topped with grape tomato halves and cucumber slices. It was served in an ice-cold bowl that kept it fresh and crispy to the last bite.
Both entrées were impressive. My dining companion chose mashed potatoes to accompany his filet — which also was served with broccoli and garlic toast. The filet was wrapped with bacon and precisely prepared to the doneness requested. The mashed potatoes were flavorful, and the broccoli was cooked with a slight crisp intact.
I enjoyed the chicken enchilada, which comes topped with sour cream and fresh pico de gallo. The enchilada is accompanied by a portion of Spanish rice and tricolored tortilla chips. Delicious, tender chicken and a fair amount of cheese was enfolded and baked in a flour tortilla and smothered in a richly robust, dark enchilada sauce that had a Southwest style flavor. The rice was moist and had fresh bits of bell pepper incorporated in it. Overall, the dish was appetizing and memorable, and it is not a stretch to say that I thought it was better than any chicken enchilada I have had at any of the local Mexican food restaurants. I would certainly order it again.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The Baked Halibut Oscar sounded appetizing. The halibut is topped with Dungeness crab, asparagus and hollandaise sauce and is served (as many of the entrée items are) with a choice of a baked potato or mashed potatoes, a fresh seasonal vegetable and garlic toast. On the lighter side, there is a Veggie Lovers Fettuccine made with broccoli and mushrooms and tossed with either Alfredo sauce or marinara, both of which are homemade. Prime rib is served Friday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m.
Breakfast also is served and offers traditional selections, which include homemade biscuits and gravy, three-egg omelets, and Dungeness crab eggs benedict.
Other observations: Once inside (the exterior is nothing special), the quality elements of this establishment surprised me on my first visit back when it was Halftime — and did so again as Billy Blues Bar and Grill. I will definitely return to experience the fantastic food and super service in the one-of-a-kind atmosphere that feels homegrown — a pleasant departure from chain restaurants.
Cost: Appetizers are $6.99 to $10.99. Soup and side salads are $3.99 to $6. Entrée salads cost $9.99 to $13.99. Gourmet burgers and sandwiches range from $9.99 to $13.99. Dinner entrées and pasta dishes start at $13.99 and top out at $17.99. Seafood and steaks are $15.99 to $25.99. Breakfast items range from $5.99 to $14.00. Kids breakfast selections are all $4.
Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday. Happy Hour is 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close on weekdays. All ages are welcome until 9 p.m. After that, customers must be 21 or older.
Where: 7115 N.E. Hazel Dell Ave., Vancouver
Health score: Billy Blues Bar and Grill has received a pre-opening inspection, which isn't scored, and the restaurant is scheduled to receive a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.