McKinney Avenue, the vein that cuts through Uptown and supplies all connected to it with endless varieties of bars and restaurants, has a new offering for its people: Belly & Trumpet. Miles away from the New York City-modeled, gourmet hot dog purveyor The Bowery that sat in its place mere months ago, Belly & Trumpet feels more like ... well ... it's not from around here, that's for sure.
Let's begin with its lush, plum walls dotted with sexy, mysterious art. Add plush booths, red velvet and lighting that's dim but not so dark you can't see your food. Which is good for you, dear diner, because the dishes chefs and menu co-designers Brian Zenner and Rudy Mendoza (of Oak and the Mansion, respectively) have created are ravishing.
We ducked in on Friday night around 7. By 8, Belly was full. Young and old graced the doorway, the surrounding tables and the bar, eager to sip and taste what's new.
But it was hard to notice it all once glistening cocktails and dramatically composed shared plates began to arrive. The "artisanal" cocktail list, with prices between $9 and $11, offered a difficult choice. Sweet or spicy? Smokey or just a bit odd? Our table sipped the Horn of Plenty, featuring St. Germain, Prosecco, soda, thyme and lemon; the Texas Smoke, which featured Treaty Oak rum, Peychauds, Dr. Pepper and cracked white pepper; the Royal Trumpet, made from Barsol Pisco and lime and topped with strawberries and blackberries; and the Snapdragon, featuring Patron Silver, Cointreau, St. Germain, lime and Thai chili. Had I been a bit braver (or the server offered me another drink just one more time), I'd have opted to try the Coastal Margarita. It combines Cazadores Reposado, Cointreau, lime, green grape, avocado puree and candied lime. Sounds like an excuse to return on a warm night if I ever have heard one.
Instead of appetizers and mains at B&T, the team has come up with about 15 shared plates, recommending two to three per person. They range from $6-$19, and no dish is comprised of more than about five ounces of food. Once again, tough decisions had to be made. We began with the chickpea fries ($6), which nestled, like a rich, solid game of hummus Jenga, into swirls of eggplant and Bagna Cauda sauces. A warm salad of rapini, cauliflower, egg and anchovy further woke up our tastebuds. We dug into sopes, topped with rich mole-soaked shredded turkey and queso fresco, Niman Ranch pork belly with kim chee, daikon and chicharrón, prime hangar steak with kale, pear and roasted nut puree, and cornish game hen with foie gras, cauliflower and raisin before reluctantly agreeing to switch to dessert.
We were rewarded with delectable, chocolate-covered cherry ice cream with banana upside down cake and a cashew nut bar with dark chocolate ice cream, both created by Oak's princess of pastry: Ms. Sarah Green.
By now I've mentioned three members of the alluring team that makes up Belly & Trumpet. In addition to Zenner, Mendoza and Green, the former owners of The Bowery, Richard and Tiffanee Ellman and John Paul Valverde, as well as manager and former Mansion employee Adam Karpf round out quite a culinary pedigree. Add former Steel bartender Matt Perry slinging cocktails created by Oak's own Abe Bedell and together, they aim to fill Uptown's collective stomach with artful cocktails and dishes that sing. Belly ... and Trumpet.
You get it.
And after a night of all that, I can't say I miss the $9 gluttonous macaroni-and-cheese-topped hot dog one bit.