To those who frequent Lower Greenville, The Libertine Bar is no stranger. With its curated draught list and a menu that balances bar food (e.g., grilled cheese) with something a bit more gourmand (e.g., cheese boards), The Libertine has established itself as a constant in a neighborhood that seems to favor change.
A bar delivering a decent — much less truly good — meal is an achievement, indeed. We have born witness to acts of bar brunch treason, from Eggo waffles to dusty espressos. So with a sense of hope but also with a purse full of emergency granola bars, we set off to try The Libertine Bar’s brunch.
The menu suggested that this was not a bar relying on the lure of brunch with baseline offerings and cheap drinks. Well, the drinks were cheap — $3 champagne cocktails — but the menu had more than cost-effective inhibition reduction to hang its hat on. There was a hanger steak sandwich topped with caramelized onions and horseradish cream ($12); the Libertine Benedict, a decidedly Italian take on the classic with Jimmy's prosciutto, fresh tomato and basil ($12); and a half-pound, bacon mayo-slathered burger made from house-ground beef ($12).
With nary an Eggo waffle in sight and the promise of ingredients touched by human hands, we bellied up to the bar for orders of chicken-fried steak with eggs and pulled pork and grits. The former proved to be a serviceable dish, but it's not likely to merit a legion of followers in the near future. It was hefty in size and plentifully laden with rib-sticking, peppery cream gravy. But its lackluster breading provided a timid crust and steak that, while toothsome, had a watery beef flavor. The plate was the stuff of greasy spoons, and while its quality was equivalent to diner fare, the price point clocked in higher at $14.
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The pulled pork and grits ($10) shared the chicken-fried steak’s affinity for large portion size with what can only be described as a small community pool’s worth of grits. If you have a town with fewer than 20,000 residents and are looking for a cost-effective alternative to water to fill your public pool, please consider these grits. Not that we’re complaining. The Libertine’s grits, which are imbued with a lovely verdant note from fresh jalapeños, are the type of cheesy comfort food that can be overconsumed with great enthusiasm and ease.
The accompanying shredded pork was potently and sweetly spiced — think Chinese five-spice powder — and provided plenty of taste bud intrigue. Another interesting, though this time unwelcome, addition came from the pickled red onion garnish. These magenta alliums, beautiful though they were, tasted so strongly of cloves that one felt the need to procure a Christmas ham in order to have a place to stick them. Onions aside, this dish hit all the right notes for a fair price of $12.
One brunch and 17 cups of grits later, The Libertine Bar proved itself in the bar-brunch game. Order wisely, and you will be rewarded with a dish that serves a greater purpose than to soak up those kir royales (but it can do that, too).
2101 Greenville Ave. Brunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.