A quick architectural tour of the city's slew of new restaurants gives the impression there is greater affection for old weathered barns than there ever was for farming itself, even in the agriculture heyday of the region. Seriously, where is all this reclaimed barnwood coming from? It's everywhere, from high-end to low-brow establishments, employed as a subtle architectural expression of the sustainability zeitgeist.
The latest enterprise to wrap itself in a splintery cloak of weathered wood is Pour House Burgers, Bourbons and Brews, the ambitious project of former Crow's Nest co-owner Ted Shelton, Spanky McGee's founder David Purcell and former Silly Goose co-owner Mandy McNeil.
With its multiple decks and fire-engine-red garage doors hovering over Eighth Avenue, Pour House threatens to unseat Frugal MacDoogal as the main navigational landmark in the neighborhood. For that matter, with the critical mass of dining and drinking establishments gathering near Eighth and Division — including Pour House, Flyte, Jackalope, Mac's and nearby Yazoo and Arnold's — the stretch of Eighth Avenue arguably deserves a moniker of its own.
Yes, Pour House wears a two-thousand-teens-style mantle of rough-hewn planking, but here the aesthetic isn't so much farm-to-fork as it is barrel-to-bar. Look closely and you'll see that the ubiquitous strips of hardwood include the occasional bunghole. No, that's not a dirty word, you pervert. It's the opening where a cask of aging whiskey would be tapped and plugged with a cork-like device called a bung. Even the exposed industrial ductwork overhead has been given a trompe l'oeil treatment to look like bourbon barrels in the rafters.
More obvious than those clues is the glowing closet of liquors by the front door — a whiskey-lover's version of a well-stocked wine cellar or humidor.
We could attempt to review the exhaustive array of 139 amber liquors on hand, but this column would degenerate quickly into hungover and inarticulate gibberish after the first few snorts: "The smoke-and-oak-tinged medley of pepper and caramel hints at a languorous evening by a smoldering fire, and — oh, hello, Officer, I'm not as think as you drunk I am."
So we'll stick with the edible inventory.
As the subtitle implies, Pour House offers a broad selection of burgers and sliders, made with meat ground in house. Across the board, our burgers were well-prepared, lightly packed and unusually juicy. We were surprised by how tender and flavorful the turkey burger was, topped with buttery slices of avocado, pepper-jack cheese and chipotle mayo. For the kids at our table, chicken tender sliders were a perfect fusion of chicken fingers and burgers, served with honey mustard, cheddar and bacon.
At $13.50, the lamb burger was the most extravagant burger on the list. (Most hover around $8.) Served with house-made pickles, feta cheese and thick tzatziki sauce, it was well worth the price. Perhaps the best bite of food we tasted at Pour House was the decadent Big South burger, laden with pimiento cheese, fried green tomato and a fried egg, which ruptured to release a golden syrup that soaked immediately into the sweet fluffy bun. In addition to the 20 or so burgers and sliders, there are a couple of steaks, as well as bourbon-glazed pork chop and chicken breast.
The half-dozen appetizers include chili, hot wings and a fried duo of mozzarella and tomato, reminiscent of a decadent deep-fried caprese salad, sans basil, or what might happen if the Tennessee State Fair ever relocated to Italy.
We particularly enjoyed warm house-made potato chips, topped with bacon, bleu cheese, diced tomatoes and pink onion, though we might suggest dialing back the last ingredient. When it comes to raw onion, less is more.
Not everything was perfect at Pour House. We found ourselves stripping anemic tomato slices from sandwiches and tracking down missing condiments. Our "medium-rare" lamb burger arrived positively saignant, but it was excellent, so we accepted the happy accident. Others might not. On neither visit was grilled asparagus available, much to our disappointment. Instead we opted for onion rings, which were good for a bite or two but quickly overwhelmed, with a spongy cloak of batter concealing soggy overcooked onion.
One standout was the Southwestern chicken salad, which pleasantly surprised us with ripe avocado, corn-bean salsa and house-made chili-lime ranch on a fluffy bed of mixed greens, where all too often we find a pale bed of iceberg with insipid dressing.
From the seven score whiskeys on the shelves, chef Darell Manhold cleverly works a few drops into the menu. Beyond the glazes on the grilled meats, there's bourbon ketchup for dipping the excellent sweet potato fries, and whiskey seeps into hand-churned bourbon-vanilla ice cream on apple cobbler and into salted bourbon caramel on a white chocolate brownie. That brief but inventive list gives quick indication that when it comes to cuisine, Pour House is smarter than the average bar.
Or is it? We would argue that the recent proliferation of upscale gastro-tavern-English-pub-sport-bars has goosed the average — and, with it, our expectations. Paraphrasing Yogi Bear, while employing the logic of Yogi Berra, we might say that the average bar is now smarter than the average bar. Which means that we're not quite as dazzled by the likes of Pour House today as we might have been had it debuted a couple of years ago. In any case, Pour House is a welcome addition to the mix and a notable new landmark in the neighborhood.
Pour House serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Live music is offered on weekends.