By Kaci Yoder
Burgers, cheese fries, tacos — any booze enthusiast could guess the lineup of the typical bar menu. The secret to the gastropub trend isn’t abandoning these classics, but elevating them to new heights of taste and complexity. It’s a secret that chefs and bartenders in Baton Rouge have grown to understand in the past few years, and now us BR barflies get to savor their successes.
So where should you start your gastronomical tour? DIG hit the bars to sample the most delicious dishes at some of the city’s signature drinking spots.
Duvic’s Martini Lounge: The Black and Blue Burger ($9.50)
Is it possible that the best burger in Baton Rouge could be hiding out at this martini bar?
Start with four cuts of beef butchered and ground in-house, add a custom-made patty press and a locally-baked brioche bun, and you’ve got Duvic’s black and blue burger. Piled high with all the freshest trimmings and smoky bacon to balance the bite of the gorgonzola blue cheese, even blue cheese skeptics can enjoy this harmonious dish.
If you ask co-owner Michael Duarte, he’ll remind you not to overlook the value of a perfectly composed French fry. Duvic’s hand-cut shoestring fries undergo a long soaking process before being fried in duck fat to ensure their crispiness no matter how long you’re sitting at the bar. That’s right, Duvic’s menu isn’t just gourmet-friendly; it’s drunk-friendly.
Suggested Pairing: The Pink Devil (Espolon Tequila, St. Germaine, vermouth, pink grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice) has the gentle sweetness to follow these complex flavors.
The Pelican House: Pork Belly Grilled Cheese ($10)
When Pelican House bartender Kris Pappis describes the melt factor on this grilled cheese as “Ninja Turtle cheese,” it’s easy to see what he means. Smoked gouda and sharp white cheddar blend together into almost cartoonish levels of gooey goodness, sandwiched between buttery Texas toast and complemented with beer-braised pork belly.
But it’s the unexpected ingredient — the bar’s house-made pepper jelly — that completes the sandwich with just enough sugar and spice to keep it from sitting too heavily on the palette. Just because the kitchen serves up this sandwich until 2 a.m. doesn’t mean the process behind it is any less careful.
“We take the pork belly and we basically baste on the pepper jelly and let it sit on there for a couple days,” Pappis said. “The smoked gouda is tricky because it doesn’t melt as easily, but we make sure to keep it on the sandwich press until it’s all ooey and gooey. It always turns out good.”
Suggested Pairing: The Pap’s Old Fashioned (Sazerac 6-year rye whiskey, house-made brown sugar simple syrup, orange bitters) leaves behind a sweet, lingering heat to match the pepper jelly on the back of your tongue.
The Bulldog: Blackened Tilapia Tacos ($9.99)
If you’ve never stopped by the kitchen window at The Bulldog, it’s time to learn that this pub is more than an insanely wide beer selection. With a mahi-mahi sandwich dressed with house-made red pepper aioli alongside nine different burgers, this menu is not one to be overlooked.
Perhaps the bar’s bestseller, these fish tacos start with a base of blacked tilapia and build on the Cajun seasoning with fresh cilantro, pico de gallo, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and a smoky chipotle ranch. In the midst of this bar’s dark wood and deep leather couches, the freshness of this dish is a pleasant surprise. Kitchen mastermind Jacon Mulkey believes this lightness makes it a hit.
“We have such a unique variety of beers, but at the same time you still have your Budweiser, your Miller Lite,” Mulkey said. “We’re trying to do that with the kitchen — expand some horizons. You still have your burgers and cheese fries, but we also try to have so much interesting food because you have so many interesting beers available.”
Suggested Pairing: Kerkom Bink Blond (a refreshing Belgian pale ale with subtle hops) keeps it light — an excellent combination for an afternoon on The Bulldog’s outdoor patio.
Olive or Twist: Cochon De Lait Fries ($10)
From the home of BR’s most creative cocktails comes a spin on cheese fries to make any Louisianian proud. One whiff of these fries and you’re instantly picturing your momma’s pork roast and family dinner around the table. In this case, the table is a bar, and dinner is Olive or Twist’s Cochon De Lait Fries.
Fresh, thin-cut French fries are smothered with slow-cooked pork, cheese, and Southern-style brown gravy to make this plate one of the heartiest, most stick-your-ribs apps you can find in a bar. Co-owner and menu designer Josh Duke has built a reputation for bringing together the couture and the Cajun with Olive or Twist’s selection of handcrafted drinks, but with cuisine like boudin egg rolls and crawfish beignets, the kitchen certainly deserves credit as well.
Suggested Pairing: The #drinklocal (Oryza gin, Old New Orleans Cajun Spice rum, Bocage honey, Louisiana Sisters pepper jelly, lemon, satsuma) finishes off this Louisiana tribute with tangy local flavors.