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Saddling up to the Bar at Sapphire

Downtown dive does fries up right

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Downtown has no shortage of places where you can get your grind on while shouting yourself hoarse and drinking yourself stupid. What it's short on is the sorts of places to have a good sit, a nice beer and maybe something delicious and fried.

That's co-owner Mario Rojas' goal with Sapphire Bar and Grill.

"I just wanted to open the kind of place people are going to love to come to and have a good time and have some stiff fucking drinks," said Rojas.

Sapphire's location at Capitol Boulevard and Idaho Street is the perfect venue for that. The interior is a combo of dark wood and copper, with high ceilings and stylish glass shelves. It's equal parts old-time saloon and modern steakhouse and has the potential to fill a much-needed culinary gap in downtown.

Rojas insists that nothing he serves comes from a box. Sapphire presses its own burger patties, gets its bread from the bakery next door and handcuts its fries. It also make its own Guinness batter for the black-and-tan onion rings. But after being open less than a year, Rojas admits they're still working out some kinks.

On a recent Tuesday, the atmosphere was sterile and awkward. Instead of music to sooth the savage ambiance, the Dallas Mavericks were playing the Miami Heat on multiple screens with the sound up.

The Garnet Burger ($8.95), a patty glazed with balsamic and dressed up in smoked cheddar, bacon and crispy fried onion straws, sounded delicious. But it arrived sans bacon, and with the balsamic and crispy onion straws sparsely concentrated, making the intended overall flavor combination inconsistent. It had the potential to be great but didn't quite make it. Instead, like most burgers, it was just satisfying.

To be fair, apparently the chef that day had only been on the job a week and was still learning the menu.

The fries, however, were already great: unpeeled potato-length wedges like sections of an orange, lightly battered and crusted with seasoning. They were thick and wonderfully textured outside and in. Served with a housemade fry sauce, they were practically a meal in themselves. These are fries fit for a state known for its potatoes.

Downtown needs the sort of place that Sapphire Bar and Grill can be. And it has all the pieces of the puzzle. Only time will tell if it can put them together into something great.

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