On a warm June evening 12 years ago, I set out to review Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. I heard it was a bar/pub and expected the usual wings, burgers, chili and bar fare.
I was in for a real surprise. Duck confit in a pub? I almost was knocked off my bar stool. The confit was as fine as any I’ve enjoyed in French restaurants. A few years later, Bella Vista’s Royal Tavern opened its doors and served fine fare.
Although I’m not fond of the word “gastropub,” the food offered in these casual restaurants is far better than the run-of-the-mill pubs.
Bella Vista’s newest addition to the casual dining scene is Growler’s. There’s a busy bar and quiet dining room where table tops are fashioned from hammered copper. Exposed brick walls and soft lighting emit a warm feeling to the space. Several diners were sitting on sofas around a fireplace, sipping a beer and nibbling on snacks as they watched a baseball game. The bartender made Edward a Bluecoat martini ($12) and a Bombay Sapphire ($11) one for me.
The beer list was expertly planned and our server offered advice for Edward’s selection to enjoy with dinner. He sipped a pint of DFT Troegs Reckoning ($5), a dark beer with a smooth finish. I decided on a glass of sauvignon blanc ($9), which imparted a grassy flavor that I liked.
You must order the potato chips ($4) to nosh with your drink before moving on to the next course. A cloth napkin-lined basket was filled with piping-hot-from-the-oven crispy chips dusted with sea salt and fresh fried herbs. These did not resemble anything that comes from a bag and arrived with a light, creamy bacon dip called a fondue on the menu.
Since big salads are usually a hallmark of gastropubs, Growlers lists a few that caught our attention. The quinoa salad ($13) could’ve easily served three people. Fresh Boston lettuce leaves lined a large plate with a mound of perfectly cooked red quinoa tossed with jumbo lump crabmeat, snips of fresh green beans, bits of cucumber, tomato and slivered almonds tossed in a mustard vinaigrette in the center. The flavors and textures dazzled our taste buds. Quinoa retains a bit of crunch as did the vegetables but the addition of succulent sweet crab was an inspired choice.
Growlers’ mussels ($14) was another fine dish. Plump, squeaky clean mussels were cooked in beer with leeks and chorizo flavored the broth in a distinct way. The sausage meat was removed from its casing and quickly sautéed before it married with the mussels, leeks and beer resulting in an entrée Edward awarded high marks. He does not usually care for this dish, but the flavor was outstanding. Two slices of Italian seeded bread helped in the sopping of the sauce.
Brussels sprouts are not just for Thanksgiving. They are available year-round and have been featured on restaurant menus recently as the vegetable of choice.
Growlers’ version ($11) hit the mark. The little cabbages were cooked to perfection with lardoons of crisp, thick-slab bacon, herbs and a properly reduced sauce made with a light cheese. I thought the cheese might detract from the sprouts, but my mind changed as soon as I took a bite. This rendition was tasty and unusual.
Service was excellent throughout our meal. Everyone in the dining room lingered over a not-at-all rushed pace in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Our server told us new items would be added to the menu within a few days of our visit.
“I want to go back,” Edward said as we left Growlers.
I have a feeling the new dishes will be as delicious as the ones we enjoyed.
Three tips of the toque to Growlers.
736 S. Eighth St.
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