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Joys for tots 

Get delicious bar food -- including tater tots! -- for cheap at Acme Bar and Pizza

If you are a teetotaler, or you haven't yet abandoned your New Year's resolution to eat a better, more rounded diet, you should probably stop reading right now. Nothing that follows this sentence will do anything but upset you or potentially shatter your resolve. For those of you who are still with me, I want to tell you about a place where you can get an overflowing basket of tater tots for $3.25, a gigantic slice of pizza awash in tasty orange grease for $2.25, and one of the most delicious, and cheapest bar burgers in the city. And you can have a really, really good beer while getting your grease on.

Acme Bar and Pizza on Monroe Avenue is about as close to fried-food nirvana as you are ever likely to get. Slightly divey and cluttered with the sort of bric-a-brac that only a truly beloved bar accumulates over time, Acme straddles the line between cheap dive (there is, after all, PBR on tap and a beer case full of cheap long-necks) and high-end beer bar (much of the rest of the beer case is taken up with U.S. microbrews and hard-to-find Belgian beers).

If you are a 20something living on a tight budget, there are probably not many places downtown where you can fill up on the sort of food your mother would look down her nose at and get a couple (or more than a couple) decent beers for about a sawbuck. And if you are an old fart like me, you won't much care how much older you are than everyone else in the place once there's a beer and a basket of tater tots sitting in front of you.

Tater tots are the Holy Grail of bar food: hard to find, and even when you find them they often aren't prepared well. At Acme they do tots just right: frying them until they teeter on the line between well-done and burnt, salting them judiciously, and getting them out to you while they are still hot enough to burn your fingers and retain their crunch. (There is nothing worse than a soggy tot.)

Want a bit of extra spice? They'll toss the fried tater puffs with a "Cajun" seasoning that's long on cayenne pepper and salt. The combination will, as intended, make you drain your beer and ask for another. And if you are particularly fortunate and have the cojones to ask for it, your server might -- if she's so inclined -- score you a cup of hot sauce to dunk your tater tots in. If you are a dedicated sybarite like me, you can pour the sauce over the whole basket of hot spuds, creating something akin to a bastard poutine combining all of the bar-night food groups: salty, fatty, spicy, and meaty.

Many patrons swear to the excellence of Acme's pizza, and I'll admit that it's pretty good, and certainly the best slice you are likely to find at the price anywhere in Rochester. The crust is thin and sturdy enough to stand up to being folded. It is crunchy and flavorful, and the sauce is good. Topped with crumbled sausage or slices of house-made meatballs, it's pretty darn good. Add a scattering of the cup-and-char variety of pepperoni and it's even better. But it's not the best pizza in Rochester, and you shouldn't let it distract your attention from the rest of the menu: you might miss out on one of the best burgers in the city, and you'll almost certainly overlook the best chicken parm sandwich I've had anywhere at any time.

I don't know and don't care what the ratio of fat to lean is in Acme's burgers: nobody's coming here to eat health food. The hand-formed patties are thick and succulently juicy, char grilled to order, and served on a Martusciello's sandwich roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, and your choice of toppings. I tend to load a burger up, and doing so here only makes a good thing better. A slice of cheddar and some crispy bacon round out the bar-burger trifecta, making everyone who orders it a winner.

I ordered the chicken parm ($6.75) on a whim, largely because I wasn't in the mood for more pizza or another burger on my second visit. When the bartender came out of the kitchen bearing a basket that very nearly required two hands to carry, I started to suspect I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Acme's chicken parm is gigantic: at least a pound, and perhaps more, of gorgeously breaded and perfectly fried chicken topped with sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella and toasted inside a massive Martusciello's sandwich roll. Two people could easily split one sandwich, and if you add a basket of tots to the mix four people could probably divvy it up successfully. Size isn't everything, though: this is an amazing parm, combining crunchy, moist chicken, cheese and just the right amount of sauce in every bite. The bread is substantial enough not to collapse under the weight of its contents, but it also acts as a great sponge for the sauce. You'll need lots of napkins to eat this sandwich, and you'll still likely go home bearing the guilty witness of your self-indulgence on your shirt and jeans.

Service at Acme is pretty much what you'd want out of your favorite dive bar, alternating between cordially surly and gregariously indulgent, as evidenced by the warning "Absolutely no fuckheads of any type" tacked up above the bar and the "You look like you could use a drink" t-shirt worn by one of the bartenders on a recent visit. Come in for lunch and the regulars and the bartender are likely to regard you with polite suspicion. Come in on any evening and you may find yourself being treated like a regular by the end of your second pint and your first basket of tots. Just be sure to save a stool for me, tip your bartenders and servers well, and save room for a sandwich.

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