By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
But, frankly, after just the first meal, it seemed to me they couldn't get much more pulled together, and I decided it was in everybody's best interest to go on and write about it.
My advice is: go to Routh Street Brewery now, quick, before they screw it up with fine-tuning or something.
Before you skip this, sighing, ohhh, another brewpub, do we really need this? let me point out that this pub is not from Colorado. Or Oklahoma. Nor is it part of a chain.
No, this brewpub is a little different right off the bat. And since we all know that atmosphere (ambiance, attitude) is 99 percent of a dining experience, you need to pay attention, because RSB's is the best among brewpubs so far.
It's a good-looking place, an amazing transformation of what was once a Mexican restaurant and more lately the last stand of Tom Agnew in Dallas. Other brewpubs in Dallas are vast, loud watering holes; like today's translation of TGI Friday's, they're places to drink and shout, and (maybe) meet someone. High decibels and brewpubs seem to go together.
Routh Street Brewery has that Hill Country look we've talked about, with a little Star Canyon-style West thrown in (antlers and Italian light fixtures). A sprawling limestone ranchhouse, angling around two patios, front and back, with lots of windows, it feels more like a country inn, a beer garden. All that's missing is the colored lights. There was even a strolling accordion player when we were there, instead of a "sound system."
The big brew tanks aren't as much in evidence as they are at Yegua Creek, for instance, where they're showcased almost like sculpture (David Smith gets curvy). So the scale doesn't have to match; RSB is more cozy than cavernous. It has a natural beer-drinking atmosphere--casual, not contrived, and the rambling layout means none of the rooms gets too noisy for conversation.
Like all the other pubs, RSB offers a beer sampler: two-ounce shots of their brews set down on a placemat over the printed name, so you feel a little like you're commencing a game of Parcheesi. On your mark, get set, drink. Winner is the one who can recognize the beers by taste alone.
Of course, there are no winners, because like most of the brew blends I've tried, RSB's are crowd-pleasers. They still have that American tendency to aim for the big fat middle of the road. RSB's Stout was tasty, but not quite tough enough; the RSB Brown Ale and the Session Mild were awfully similar, though very drinkable; the women at the table liked the floral, perfumey quality of the English Pale Ale, but the guys didn't.
Generally, I've decided that wheat beer is too grassy for me, but if you like it, RSB's recipe is a good one. It pleased me that the beers had simple, understandable names: RSB Big Black Stout. Period. Name-That-Brew must be the brewmaster's favorite game at other pubs--so we end up drinking things like "Rainbow Trout Stout" and "Cryin' Coyote Western Ale."
Speaking of what we call things, what about this term "chicken-fried"? Chicken-fried steak means something--battered beef. But then, ridiculously and redundantly, restaurants started offering "chicken-fried chicken" (as opposed to what-- "French-fried chicken"? "Steak-fried chicken"?) Chicken-fried quail is one of the three appetizers on RSB's menu. It's hard to say why it isn't just "fried quail," unless the gravy has something to do with it. These little Texas birds were clothed in a coat of crispy batter, chicken-fried, and yet not overcooked. Great finger food. And they came with thick white gravy which looked properly like library paste (or so we assume, though most of us have seen more cream gravy than library paste). This kind of gravy originated in the pan, using the drippings from frying the chicken to make the roux. Since "chicken-fried" now means deep-fried, there are no drippings, but cream gravy may also be made from bacon drippings (that's when it comes with your breakfast biscuits).
This particular gravy was inspired by the latter, and the menu claimed it was made with apple-smoked bacon. You'll have to take the apple-smoked part on faith--at any rate, my palate is not refined enough to sort the smoke fumes out of a cup of gravy. It did taste like bacon, though.
Another appetizer, a slice of mushroom strudel, was large and rich enough to make a meal. Resting in a plate of cheese rarebit sauce, the pastry, flaky and brown, wrapped around meaty brown mushrooms and a layer of melting cheese. It was as rich as an enchilada and more like one than a strudel, but we liked it, and it does take big food to stand up to beer.