The Sub-Standard Pour
The Standard Pour opened last March, promising a cocktail den with food as slinky as its old-school cocktails in the heart of Uptown. Just less than a year later it has grown into a bustling restaurant, packed to the hilt on weekends and filled with a respectable crowd even late into a recent Monday evening.
On any given night the luckiest of the customers have a seat at the generous bar lining the back wall of the restaurant. I watched during one of my visits as one ordered the Brimstone, a bourbon-based cocktail that starts its boozy life with a small pile of apple-wood chips and a blowtorch. The bartender ignites the torch and fans the chips with a blue flame alongside an oversized tumbler, which he inverts over the wood just as it begins to smolder. The smoke-filled glass is a showy touch that adds a little campfire to the finished drink flavored with vermouth, Benedictine and bitters.
Not all the drinks on the menu involve more ingredients than a recipe for methamphetamine, beakers, shakers and several thousand BTUs. Classics like the sazerac, Moscow mule and aviation keep things firmly on the ground if you don't want to indulge half of the apothecary that lurks behind the bar. And thankfully, all of the drinks are served without a single ounce of pretension — a refreshing detail in a circuit that has a tendency to be dominated by nasal conversations about handcrafted tinctures, rare spirits and obscure distilleries in faraway lands.
The dining room looks the part, too. Tufted couches in dark leather, area rugs and bookshelves make the place feel like a library that's cool enough to actually hang in. This could be the private study of a wealthy, gun-toting bootlegger, perhaps.
Whiskey runners should have fried chicken this good. The flesh is moist, the skin is crisp and hot sauce in a steel cup for dipping keeps you eyeing your cocktail for another sip to squelch the flames. Little glass jars of potato salad and coleslaw round out a presentation that does this Southern classic well.
A cheesesteak is less traditional but no less delicious. While I can't agree with open-face presentation, which forces diners to endure the embarrassment of consuming this classic handwich with a fork and knife, the sandwich is still a winner, piled with thinly sliced beef and stringy, melted cheese.
A hot dog made from wild boar is quite good, too, topped with relish and tangy sauerkraut, while a tortilla soup offered as a special is outstanding and bursting with masa flavor, with soft tortilla strips floating around in the broth and crunchy shoestrings of the same offered as a garnish on top.
Order any of these dishes from the "Traditional Cravings" section of the menu, and a side of creamy and decadent mac and cheese, and you'll think you've stumbled into the latest, great gastro-cocktail-whatever of the highest order. Order from the rest of the menu, or try to dine here on the weekends, and you'll wish you'd stuck with the booze.
The website claims that The Standard Pour (dubbed TSP, natch) "bucks the trend of loud lounges and boisterous bars, making it the ideal setting for conversation," but try to eat here on Friday or Saturday evening and the weekend party crowd will swallow you up. They stand around tables and crowd the bar, pulling hard on bottles of beer and sloshing vodka sodas. Waitresses lean into tables to clarify orders and those unlucky enough to sit along a major pathway will have the pleasure of the occasional ass-jostling of every passerby.
Even if the food were good, these aren't ideal conditions for dining, but more often than not dishes come up way short, like the heavy braised lamb pasta dish, which swims in a buttery sauce. Sliced grape tomatoes do their best to cut through the fat, but there's not nearly enough acid to wake up this heavy plate.
Braised short ribs are worse. The large hunk of meat is cooked so long too much moisture has been squeezed from the beef, which seems odd considering the beans that form a bed in the bottom of the bowl are underdone and crunchy.
A burger is overcooked and served on a dry bun, and french fries arrive all over the map. Some are the color of leather and perfectly cooked, and some are blond and underdone. All of the spuds are heavy and greasy, though.
Dessert gets even worse. Fruit cobblers usually offer a decadent juxtaposition of savory, crumbly pastry and warm, oozing fruit, but the overworked dough in this version eats like a rubber gasket cap for a saucy fruit dish.
What's a shame is the potential lost in the poor execution. While some menu items, like lobster nachos, never stood a chance, the concept that's presented here is a mostly good one. And dishes like that fried chicken and tortilla soup demonstrate a kitchen that knows what they're doing at least some of the time.
Uptown could use a place like this, as evidenced by the crowds, but they deserve plates that stand up to the drinks that come from behind the bar. For now most of the food that crosses the pass isn't worth your time, and the space feels like a cocktail den that's slipping into party bar territory more often than not.
If this model sounds familiar, look just down McKinney Avenue to Sfuzzi, the Italian restaurant devised by the same owners of TSP. There, on weekends, DJs spinning dance music serve as a backdrop for passable meatball sliders and terrible pizza. The plan worked perfectly, and Sfuzzi is packed with young professionals most days of the week.
Clad in suits or sport coats and heels and skirts, the Sfuzzi crowd is looking to get out and meet up, but while many customers have food on their tables, it's obvious they're not looking to eat well. TSP is on its way to delivering more of the same.
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