You would be hard-pressed to find a dining experience more casual than that of Casey’s Tavern. In fact, I hesitate to even call it a dining experience — it’s more of a pit stop for a hearty plate of hometown grub. As a result, people from all walks of life pop in for a bite: The anesthesiologist who just got off work, the young couple on their way to a movie, the undergrad taking a break from studying and the family on the run all gather here at dinnertime. These folks flock for the food — the crunchy, salty, greasy fare you can only expect from such an establishment. But this pub food is definitely notches superior to most.

Located on the corner of Depot Street and 5th Avenue across from the Amtrak station, Casey’s is unassuming in every way. Before becoming the great bar it is today, the shack housed a lumber company, to which Casey’s owes much of its coarse character. The majority of the parking out back, for instance, consists of single spots in a stable-like structure originally meant for a different use. On a logistical note, parking is extremely sparse, so you will be at an advantage if you come car-less.

Inside, the lights are dimmed, but not to the point of intimidation or harshness. Everything looks worn but not quite weathered, a difference that creates a comfort factor. My coworkers and I make our way over to a booth by a tall, slender window. The sill is a perfect place to stash the extra set of napkins I’ll soon need and the incredible variety of condiments offered tableside. An autographed photograph of Michael Phelps as he leaps from his diving platform hangs next to my head. Distracting? A little. Awesome? Totally.

We order drinks from our sarcastic waitress. She’s terse, but in a way that’s backwardly inviting. Bottles and glasses soon make their way to the reused Casey’s-emblazoned coasters dashed about our table.

“So, ya ready for some food?” she challenges.

Yes ma’am, we are.

For an appetizer, the only option is onion rings. Even if you don’t usually order appetizers, make these fried halos your meal. They’re truly heavenly.

To start, thick, fresh Spanish onions are sliced by hand, yielding big rings of punchy, onion-y goodness. The rings then make their way through a stiff batter of wheat flour and cornmeal jolted with a bottle of Labatt Blue and spiced simply with ground black pepper. But it’s when the coated onions are dropped into a deep fryer bubbling with light soybean oil that the magic happens. The heat of the oil softens the onion, both in texture and flavor, and the batter begins to wrap the rings with a delicate coat of protective crunch. Luckily, some batter does manage to stray from the onion, connecting the ring to a web intricately woven by the fried liquid, which begs to be broken off and enjoyed separately from the rest of the earthy appetizer. Dip these babies in Casey’s homemade-daily ranch dressing. It’s often thin, but nevertheless cool, refreshing and boldly flavored with sharp garlic and bright dill. The result: hot, cool, crunchy, creamy, delicate, rustic — and simply awesome.

If you really must order a meal, though, Casey’s has you covered there, too. I usually opt for a burger with grilled onions, bacon and pepper jack cheese. The seven-ounce portion of local Knight’s Market ground chuck is substantial, certainly enough to split between two smaller appetites. I have found that the kitchen tends to undercook the burgers, however, so I would advise going for at least medium-well when ordering. Give the patty a quick dousing of Worcestershire sauce to beef up the flavor and a dash of salt for a savory bite. The steak fries and pickle accompanying the burger are not at all special, however, so it’s a good thing you ordered those exquisite onion rings.

If you happen to go on a day when the eatery’s offering up its freshly baked coconut cream pie, finish your meal off right with a sweet slice. The crust is solid, neither tough nor crumbly, the thick filling is sweetened nicely, the meringue is pillowy, dissolving easily in the mouth, and the shaved, toasted coconut adorning the golden peaks — the “cherry on top” — completes the treat.

Sweet tooth satisfied, you’re free to leave. But as you pull the heavy door open to exit, peer over your shoulder in a kind of satisfied daze. Notice how the floorboards are worn, the booths cramped and the tables chipped. Nothing seems quite right about this corner joint, but in an intriguing way. You smile knowing that’s what makes everything exactly right.

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