published Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Beast + Barrel boasts brainy booze, beef

A half rackof Memphis dry-rubbed ribs, with both Cherry Coke BBQ and habanero peach sauce, is served with sides of garlic fries and mustard greens at Beast + Barrel on Frazier Avenue.
A half rackof Memphis dry-rubbed ribs, with both Cherry Coke BBQ and habanero peach sauce, is served with sides of garlic fries and mustard greens at Beast + Barrel on Frazier Avenue.
Photo by Barry Courter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

* Where: Beast + Barrel, 16 Frazier Ave.

* Phone: 423-805-4599.

* Website: www.beastandbarrel.com.

* Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.

* Price range: $1.50 (jerky of the day) to $40 (Crabacon stuffed whole trout, feeds 2)

When kings of yore returned victorious from battle, they would strip off their armor, settle into a great room and call for grog, dancing girls and slain beasts to be brought forth.

That was then. Today, things are different. For one, kings don’t personally get to fight much anymore unless it’s from the safety of a secure bunker. Also, most voters prefer that their leaders refrain from cavorting with dancing girls.

But the slain beasts and barrels of wine are still in vogue, perhaps even more so than ever before. Diets that specialize in cutting out carbohydrates and moves by state legislatures to legalize the creation and distribution of specialty spirits have boosted demand for exotic meats and exciting cocktails.

That’s where Beast + Barrel, Chattanooga’s newest restaurant, enters the picture. The fresh eatery, located at 16 Frazier Ave., promises to combine two of life’s pleasures into a single melting pot of succulent tastes drawn from around the world.

THE MENU

Don’t just feast your eyes. This is for a real feast.

That’s the message of Beast + Barrel’s menu, which offers portions targeted at specific appetites rather than divvying things up in a more traditional fashion.

Feeling peckish? Try a small serving of the day’s popcorn ($1.50).

Maybe you’ve arrived with a specific craving. Go for the Quail Popper ($14) and bask in the boursin and smoked jalapeno crusts stuffed with quail breast, wrapped in bacon and served with jalapeno jelly. Or perhaps you should spring for an order of the fabulous Jack Rabbit Slims ($7), a handful of onion rings drizzled with jalapeno-infused local honey.

For the truly famished, larger servings like the Cheesesteak Wit Wit ($10) tempt the hungry eater with shaved strips of rib-eye, grilled caramelized onions and mushroom duxelles on a toasted bun with cheese sauce.

It gets better. For a dinner designed to cure the most ravenous appetite, this restaurant brings out the big guns, offering a bowl of Beef Bourguignon marinated for hours in wine, carrots, onions and fresh herbs and served over a mound of whipped potatoes. Or take a stab at the Steak Frites ($18), a house sliced 12-ounce rib-eye steak topped with a chunk of cognac peppercorn compound butter, then tossed with garlic, parsley and parmesan cheese. Yum.

Not everyone likes to eat by themselves, and for those who love to share, the restaurant offers a beer-can whole chicken for $32, which is exactly what it sounds like, and many of the other dishes can be split as well.

THE ORDER

Faced with a menu that begged to be sampled, I found some willing collaborators and dug in.

Curiosity got the better of us, so we called for a serving of the Jerky of the Day ($1.50), which offered a spicy, whiskey-flavored flavor that was fun for the whole table and went well with the specialty cocktails whisked over by the bar’s mixologist.

And yes, mixologist is a real occupation. Not to be confused with a common bartender, the mixologist puts the barrel in Beast + Barrel.

We ordered up the Divorce Shore ($8), a playful take on the nickname locals gave to this space’s previous occupants, the Northshore Grille. This drink includes Gordon’s gin, Campari, champagne, fresh-squeezed orange juice, lemon and an orange twist. And tears. No, just kidding about the tears; it’s delicious.

Few could resist the call of The Dogfather ($7), a strong serving of Bulleit Rye, carpano Antica vermouth, creole bitters and a brandied cherry. It’s an old-fashioned spruced up for the martini lover.

The Smoked Trout Pate ($9), which arrives at the table with a selection of smoked Pickett Farms trout blended with brandy, lemon, capers and fresh herbs, makes a great sampler for the whole table.

So does the Southern Anti Pasta Platter ($14), which includes slow-smoked pulled pork, jerky of the day, house-made sausage and ham, smoked hoop cheddar, crackers, crostinis, barrel mustard and pickles.

Follow it up with a full rack ($23) of Memphis dry rubbed ribs with either Cherry Coke BBQ or habanero peach flavors. These are not your cheap, prepackaged ribs, microwaved minutes before serving. These are juicy, succulent smoked ribs designed for the rib lover that arrive properly garnished with baked beans made from scratch and mustard slaw on the side. Bring a stack of napkins and an appetite.

THE SERVICE

Here’s a place where they know how to be friendly. Not the overly friendly, sit-down-at-your-table-to-take-your-order overbearing style popular at some restaurants. Genuinely friendly. Apologetic even. Anticipatory.

Your drink took a little too long to come out from the overworked mixologist? It’s free.

You hesitate and look up after starting to recite your order? They’ll tell you whether your selection is any good.

Waters stay filled, plates go away when no longer needed and the staff knows how to make small talk without getting awkward.

Matt Lewis opened the Beast + Barrel with partners Ryan Chilcoat and Geoff Tarr, the trio responsible for Hair of the Dog, Terminal Brewhouse and The Honest Pint. One thing all those places have in common is well-trained servers who are personable, competent and attentive. Their latest venture appears to be the latest extension of a philosophy that calls for customer service to be a priority, a strategy that so far has worked well.

THE SPACE

For those uncomfortable being watched over by faux mounted beasts and surrounded by wood trim and Victorian wallpaper, this isn’t the place to visit.

Done wrong, the combination of hunting lodge chic and North Chattanooga touches could look like a nightmare. But Lewis and Co. have done it right, dressing the place up enough to hit the right mark without oversensualizing the restaurant. The deck offers a premium dining experience, and the bar is big and beautiful.

When taken together, the space and the menu work together to create an experience unlike any other in the Scenic City.

THE VERDICT

The world’s best restaurants combine two of mankind’s favorite pastimes — the consumption of exotic foods and the imbibement of exciting adult beverages — to create new experiences for their patrons.

That’s what they’re going for at Beast + Barrel, a restaurant that offers a straightforward dining experience with a twist. Though the menu fits on one page, there’s nothing simple about lineup of dishes that includes as many diverse tastes as this one.

All the kitchen specialties, even the familiar ones, feature uncommon local twists that will leave you wishing you had room for a third course.

For that, you’ll just have to come back.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or esmith@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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