Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Headhouse Pub Opening Review

Zot was a one-of-a-kind place. We dropped in one night, complaining about a dinner service gone bad and were spontaneously greeted with Belgian beers and a trumpet mushroom, lobster & salsify risotto at the bar.

So when we heard about Zot's unfortunate demise and the Headhouse Pub springing up in it's place, we had to stop in and see what was cooking. There have been a few stories covering this re-imagined space and they have mainly mentioned the concept of a beer-centric gastro-pub.

Here's a pic of what we think the Headhouse does well...Asian inspired bar snacks. These are the porcupine shrimp, a shrimp ball chock with crunchy water chestnut & scallions and served with a creamy dipping sauce. The vermicelli poking out from the fried balls gave it the signature 'porcupine' aspect, but overall this is the kind of dish we were expecting...satisfying and delicious small plates.

Alongside the shrimp, we ordered the fontina fritters. These were OK hot, but they quickly cooled into brownish doughballs that were unpleasantly greasy - Elizabeth enjoyed the accompanying cucumber slices & tomato creme fraiche dipping sauce more than the fritters themselves.

Before we go further into the food menu, I will mention the beer menu. There were some great beers on the menu, however the number of hop-oriented selections were sparse...I counted only 2 of over a dozen beers on tap that could be considered 'hoppy' and 3 of the selections were decidedly in the 'fruit'/'sour' category (Rodenbach Cru on draft is a HUGE bonus), which limits those hopheads ordering off the drafts. There were some great, light summer selections, like Fleur de Lehigh, a decent Hefe and Flying Fish Exit 6. The bottle menu was as deep as Zot's, so serious drinkers shouldn't be too worried...we eagerly drank up a bottle of Boon Gueuze that wasn't listed but proffered by the bartender when our request for gueuze lambic was placed with the waitress.

However, this was the biggest disappointment of the evening...mussels. Early predictions of Headhouse were of a fear that a wide menu would lead to problems executing dishes - read the comments on the news story here to see what I'm talking about- Insider

Mussels are kinda no-brainers in terms of a starting point for gastro-pubs, but I hate to say that these mussels were only mediocre and suffered from the pan-global concept.

The 'Spanish' mussels, one of four varieties available, had chorizo...fresh Mexican style chorizo which lacked the punch of a good cured Spanish chorizo. This lackluster sausage left a broth that resembled chicken noodle soup - absent were any flavors of pimenton, paprika or the other spices normally associated with Spanish chorizo.

I called this one Jewish Mother's mussels as it reminded me of a schmaltzy chicken noodle soup with mussels more so than it's namesake Spanish mussels. This oversight with ingredients, combined with so-so quality mussels ( undercooked and stringy - we left about1/4 of the mussels on the plate because they were unopened/barely opened) leads me to believe that there is some room for improvement on this dish.

To be fair, the table next to ours ordered the Asian mussels and was very pleased...more evidence than the pan-global reach of the menu may be a weakness of this kitchen.

One bright spot? The fries. Delicious. Golden Brown. Crunchy. Bring 'em on.

Although Elizabeth was full at this point, I wanted to be fair to the kitchen and test the final flavor profile advertised on the menu...Latin food. I ordered the pork carnitas with pineapple and cilantro. The pork itself was chopped and seasoned perfectly but overall it was a too dry. The creamy sauce didn't make up for the overall dry character of the pork. I can't help but wonder if the latest fad of Korean short rib tacos wouldn't be a better option on the menu in place of the carnitas?

Stepping back from the food, the space itself was beautifully remodeled; we actually dined in the front room which, those of you that remember Zot, used to house the foozball tables. The service was very attentive. One thing I noticed was that with every beer order, the waitress was quick to offer a sample before the order was placed. I can see this being a great way to ramp casual beer drinkers up into the quality offerings on tap.

Overall, I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't impressed by the food either. It looks like the initial skepticism that I saw emerging about the kitchen may be well founded. To be fair, I saw several tables enjoying sandwiches and burgers, so there may be some better offerings towards that portion of the menu. I wish them luck and I look forward to the bar snacks, but I have some serious problems with the shotgun approach on the menu (calamari, fritters,satay,tacos,mussels, etc.). For now, this is a 'beer first' bar and I would skip it for any serious meals.

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