Let’s start with the obvious: The name is magnificent. At once self-deprecating and a clever nod to the area, Lowlife elicits a chuckle and covers a lot of sins.
Like the Eggos in the chicken and waffles ($12). Eggos? By which you mean a locally sourced, hand-crafted, bespoke heirloom waffle winklingly dubbed an “Eggo”?
No, son. This is Lowlife. We’re talking freezer section. Box of 10. You get two, buttered up and grilled on the flattop. Topped with a sliced fried chicken breast slathered in honey Buffalo sauce and adorned with sour cream, sliced green onions, and cabbage slaw, there’s nary a drop of maple syrup in sight. Purists beware: If you order it craving some Southern tradition, this is not the droid you seek. Rather, as the charming bartender (quite accurately) put it, this is “the chicken wings of brunch.”
In contrast, the tuna poke ($14) is — for the most part — authentic, but as with most mainland variations, there’s some unexpected filler here. However, in lieu of soybeans or fruit, Lowlife adds small, tender Beech mushrooms. Served on wonton crisps, the chunks of fresh ahi tuna are mixed with an equal part of the meaty mushrooms and both are deeply marinated in a sweet soy sauce. Finished with green onions, sesame seeds, and red onions, this is bar food you can feel good about.
Less so, the wedge salad ($11), which starts with a bad idea — a solid segment of iceberg lettuce — and tops it with bad decisions — bacon, bleu cheese, and crumbled Zapp’s Voodoo chips. Also featuring cubed tomatoes, slices of avocado, and bits of red onion, this probably isn’t something you should recreate at home, but you’ll be tempted to do so.
Lowlife occupies a cool space and has cultivated a similar vibe. Breezy and welcoming, the music is a laid-back journey through the late 90s with A Tribe Called Quest and Handsome Boy Modeling School making appearances. It’s fundamentally a bar, and the friendly, easygoing bartending servers fit the bill. Along with beer and wine options, there are cocktails with cheeky names like the Toni Basil ($10) made with gin, fresh basil, and lemon juice or the Pluff Mudslide ($10) with rum, banana, and coconut milk, plus cold brew coffee.
On the sandwich side, Mother’s double cheeseburger ($14) is a serious mouthful. Be aware: biting into this is likely to rival one of those suggestive Carl’s Jr. ads. Otherwise, think Violet Beauregard. Made with a soft, seeded bun, the two patties are tender and juicy and loaded with the works: aged cheddar, grilled onions, pickles, plus lettuce, tomato, and ‘secret sauce.’ Consider a bib, because this is some messy business.
If you’re in the mood for a real laundry disaster, the local shrimp roll ($15) provides the type of consumption challenge you crave. Presented on seasoned waffle fries, the traditional buttered hot dog bun is filled with plump, fresh shrimp, crisp celery, and a deluge of remoulade. It’s then topped with roughly the same amount of lettuce as the wedge salad. I noticed my neighbor ordered the same thing and soon resorted to conquering it with a fork and a knife. Still, even if you end up wearing some of it, it’s worth it.
Rounding out the messy meals category, the fried chicken sandwich ($13) is yet another challenge for your jawbone. Get ready to do your best boa constrictor impression, as two crisply fried breast pieces are topped with lettuce, tomato, and a spicy sesame slaw. The same seeded potato bun is employed here, and it’s still soft and fresh, but not remotely up to the challenge. They ask a lot of a small bun at Lowlife, but the flavors more than make up for it.
Last up, the pulled barbecue mushroom sando ($14) is as tasty as it is clever. Echoing back to the poke and proving these folks really know their way around fungus, this meatless option finds tender smoked king trumpet mushrooms in place of pork. The texture is a little more slippery and carnivores are unlikely to be fooled, but any vegetarians in your party will probably be thrilled. Topped with melted cheddar cheese, crispy onion straws, and a spicy slaw, there may be no better way to soak up the rum in the Dark & Shady ($10) than with something grown in the shade.
A little off the beaten path, Lowlife is a fun, friendly bar with above-average eats. And with everything from avocado toast ($9) to actual Eggos in the mix, there’s sure to be something that appeals to everyone.