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Dinner at Perly's? An experiment takes off.

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When the lights are lowered, Perly's loses much of its deli ambience: The walls are painted soothing shades of purple, green and red, and the booths are illuminated by wall lamps. A pottery collection is displayed on a shelf.

Once you get over the disorientation, you'll find that the same retro vibes that have made Perly's so successful during the daylight — home-cooked food, old-fashioned, courteous service and a soothing 1940s decor — are still there after the sun goes down. But Perly's has done more than just offer a nighttime version of its lunch menu. You can still order its trademark sandwiches and salads, but it would be a shame to pass up the evening menu and its bargain prices.

The menu tops out at $18 for crab cakes, but as one waitress pointed out, the appetizer version is enough for all but the largest appetites. A bargain at $7.50, it consists of three medium-sized patties, pan-fried and lightly bonded.

Regulars expecting down-home grub won't be disappointed either, although ironically, the meatloaf — served with gravy, onions and green peppers — tasted like it was made with canned broth. Likewise, the fried chicken livers with onions were a bit dry for some tastes, but otherwise delicious.

The chef — he's called a cook during the day — did better with some delicate offerings: A baked salmon fillet was flaky and white, nicely seasoned with oregano and basil; bratwurst with German sauerkraut was oom-pah-pah filling, but the casing was darker and looser than expected.

The slow-roasted prime rib, which comes in 8- and 14-ounce portions at $12 and $17, was semithick and very juicy.

Other dinner entrees ($9 to $12) include baked spaghetti with feta, provolone, and meat and tomato sauce; boneless chicken breast baked with onions and feta in a tomato sauce tossed with penne pasta; and vegetarian stew seasoned with fresh ground curry.

Most entrees come with a choice of two sides, which include tabouli, zucchini Provençal, asparagus with hollandaise, sautéed mushrooms and corn pudding.

Perly's has made few concessions to the nighttime trade. There are no candles or tablecloths and no nightly specials. Also, because the desserts, all made in-house, are the same ones offered at lunch, evening diners may have little choice. On one recent night, the only dessert left was cheesecake.

If you're lucky, dessert may also include nutty pecan or lemon chess pie, rice or banana pudding, and brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

Dinner begins at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but the music can be heard only on Saturdays, from 7 to 10 p.m. Bandleader Ostrow, like the new Perly's, has a split personality: He's a keyboardist by night and math professor during the day.

Owner Gray Wyatt, who took over from the Perlstein family 20 years ago, said the nighttime experiment began last summer (music was added in the fall). And in what may be the latest indication of a resurging downtown, it has been successful enough that it may be expanded to weeknights. S



Perly's ($$)
111 E. Grace St.
649-2779
Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-3 p.m.;
Friday and Saturday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.,
Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

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