Our hopes are high that the Toyota Music Factory comes together as a food and live entertainment destination. On the live music front, the venue has had something of a rocky start, with canceled shows and questionable plumbing, but the i-dotting and t-crossing appears to be wrapping up for upcoming events.
Meanwhile, the Music Factory has designs on becoming a solid food destination. The owners of Sambuca Uptown announced that they will focus on three new concepts at the venue, but in the interim, three other dining options are open now for concertgoers who want to get food and drinks before a show.
Freshii is a Canadian fast-casual chain with a menu heavy on bowls, wraps, salads, burritos, juices and smoothies, with a handful of spots in Dallas. And Bar Louie recently added its 13th location in Texas to the Music Factory. Finally, there's a newcomer to the D/FW area: The Thirsty Lion brings its gastropub fare all the way from Portland, Oregon, to Texas for the first time.
Thirsty Lion occupies a prime spot at the end of small strip of storefronts and is an easy walk for patrons heading to and from the music venue. Step inside and a large dining room awaits with lots of wood-topped tables and exposed, black-painted ductwork hanging from the ceiling, pushing a strong industrial feel. A large, three-sided bar sits at the far end of the space and backs up to an open view of the kitchen.
Service is prompt and polished. We bellied up to the bar during the lunch hour, and our bartender introduced herself with a handshake, then put a small tent card with her name in front of us, lest we forget. Cleverly, the bartender will also write what you're drinking on the back of the tent card, which should speed reordering (or at least give the impression you're a favorite customer).
There's a preponderance of drink choices at the bar. Despite being new in town, Thirsty Lion has done well to stock the beer taps with plenty of local craft favorites, and a decently sized list of craft cocktails is also available. We ordered a pint of Deep Ellum's Dallas Blonde and surveyed the menu.
At first glance, most of the menu seems typical of other bar food establishments, but a closer review shows some efforts by Thirsty Lion to prove its gastropub chops. For starters, there are bar basics such as sliders, queso and nachos, but some elevated options, including bacon-wrapped dates ($7.95) and a seared ahi tuna ($12.95), tread off the beaten path. If a salad is more your speed, there are at least 10 options to chose from, with proteins such as steak, chicken or shrimp complementing lots of kale, arugula and romaine.
Thirsty Lion's sandwich and burger options are equally plentiful. We were torn between Thirsty Lion's take on a Cuban sandwich ($11.95) and the gastropub burger ($13.95), which promised a Gorgonzola-infused patty with grilled sweet onion, maple pepper bacon, white cheddar, arugula and horseradish cream. We asked our bartender to help us decide, and her recommendation of the burger was the one we went with.
The burger comes impressively stacked on a ciabatta roll, knife protruding from the center, and a healthy portion of well-seasoned french fries. The patty was juicy, if cooked slightly beyond the medium we requested, and the cheeses and horseradish oozed through every bite. Our gripes were but two: First, the bacon was somewhat limp and didn't add much saltiness to the sandwich. Second, the onions could've been grilled longer to soften them up, and so many were stacked on our sandwich that they overpowered the other flavors of the burger.
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Breath heavy with onions, we looked for a dessert to help flush our palettes. The gentleman next to us ordered a delicious-looking creme brulee, but we chose the chocolate porter brownie, baked in a cast iron skillet and served with a golf-ball-sized dollop of vanilla ice cream. The brownie hit the sweet spot we craved, but the ratio of ice cream to brownie feels too low. And Thirsty Lion needs to share its trick of making a round cast iron skillet turn out square brownies — we think a little kitchen chicanery is at work for the presentation.
It feels just a little short of the full-on gastropub experience, but the decent food choices and well-stocked beer and cocktail lists are reason enough to hit up the Thirsty Lion before or after a show. It's also well suited to handle a lunch crowd for the Las Colinas office denizens looking for something a little beyond basic bar fare.
Thirsty Lion Gastropub, 350 W. Las Colinas Blvd., Irving