If you go
› Where: Drake’s, 7338 McCutcheon Road
› Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. or later Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-midnight or later Sunday
› Prices: $8-$46
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-702-5722
Fried bologna sandwiches. Tacos. Sushi. Burgers.
Those things normally stand on their own, or are surrounded by like-minded options, but not at Drake's, a new addition to the Waterside development near Hamilton Place. At the exuberant new restaurant/bar, those foods share a menu with classic bar bites and a lineup of anticipated Americana sandwiches, salads and entrees.
I've always struggled with the concept of "Do one thing, and do it well" — I like options — so naturally I had to experience this melting-pot menu for myself. Coincidentally, I had not been to Village at Waterside since The Melting Pot closed in 2012, so it seemed time for a revisit.
In the six and a half years before my return, Waterside has ballooned from a development anchored by a handful of tenants and lots of dirt into a sprawling and manicured standalone community. I've, of course, read the headlines announcing each new arrival — Publix, REI, smaller retail shops, fitness facilities and a growing list of eateries — but seeing them all huddled together, more than quadrupling the footprint, was surprising.
Holding down one corner of the neighborhood is Drake's. At 5,850 square feet, it felt a little small for the crowds that flock to each new establishment, though it didn't necessarily feel cramped. The space is separated into two sides. The anchor of each is a decent-size bar. In fact, each side essentially feels like a bar, with high-tops primarily making up the rest of the seating on one side and longer tables primarily filling in on the other.
In keeping with that atmosphere, the whole place is seat yourself.
When we arrived around 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon, the place was packed, with one or two groups waiting ahead of us. With the help of some of the friendly servers (and my knack for finding open seating), we were all able to sit down in about 15 minutes.
As my boyfriend, Jon, and I slid into two green leather armchairs at the lone table cozied up to the corner wood-burning fireplace, I said, "This place looks like our hangout if we were in college now."
Beer "towers" lined either side of the bar, waiting to be filled with up to 120 ounces of one of the 24 craft brews on tap. Sleek, new, flat-screen TVs made up much of the decor. A familiar anthem by The Offspring rumbled through the bright dining area. Outside, a small, AstroTurf-lined patio welcomed games of cornhole and oversized Connect 4.
The story goes that the small chain's co-founder was looking for "a place he'd want to hang out in at any hour" and couldn't find it. So he made one.
I'm still not sure how such random items came to coexist together, but that seems to be the theme of Drake's.
"Family friendly by day, happening at happy hour and all-out party after hours," its website proclaims. And, let's be real, it's all a little gimmicky. But it works.
Sushi makes up half the menu. There's a healthy list of standards, like the California roll ($6) and cuts of squid, tuna and more offered as sashimi or nigiri ($4-$7.50). Then there's the expansive Specialty Sushi section, rolls with names like the Chicago: soy paper, seared filet mignon, asparagus, scallions and cream cheese, topped with avocado, spicy mayo and Aqua sauce ($11). Or the Drake's Yum Yum: spicy crawfish, jalapeno and cucumber, topped with shrimp, seaweed salad, red tobiko and Drake's yum yum sauce ($12).
There's even a teriyaki chicken bowl ($10) and a poke bowl, a Hawaiian staple that is essentially sushi meets a salad ($12).
The other half is classic American: sriracha dry-rub wings ($14), California Cobb salad ($12 with chicken or $16 with salmon), Turkey Swiss and Avocado Grill sandwich ($10), Griddle Seared Chicken ($12) or Salmon ($15), for example.
To be truthful, tacos are only a small portion of the lineup. You can choose between chicken or fish ($12 for either).
Aside from sushi, burgers hold the most space, with 10 fairly classic options ranging from the Black Bean Avocado Burger ($11), topped with chipotle-jack cheese, avocado-lime slaw, honey-jalapeno mayo and lettuce; to the Morning Glory ($12), featuring a fried egg, bacon, pepperjack cheese, fire-roasted salsa and trimmings.
Curious to see how masterfully they could combine such opposing cultural markers, we decided to start with sushi followed by a burger. In honor of Mardi Gras, we settled on the Sushi of the Month, the Mardi Party ($12): smoked salmon, fried cream cheese, grilled jalapeno and avocado, topped with spicy crab, sweet chili sauce, tempura crunch and scallions. It was clearly flavorful, but also tasted fresh.
For my main course, I chose the Big Blue ($12), a burger seasoned with Cajun spice and topped with blue cheese crumbles, dressing and bacon. I opted for waffled sweet potato fries as my side. They were addictive, somehow managing the line between salty and sweet.
The burgers are all smashed burgers, a self-explanatory practice that proponents say makes a more flavorful burger due to the increased browning effect.
For me, it's about balance. My Big Blue definitely achieved this in terms of flavor, but not bun space. This meant a fairly messy eating experience as toppings and latticed morsels of meat toppled from the overhang, so date-nighters be warned. But it wasn't to the point that I had juices running down my arm.
Critics of smashed burgers say they aren't as juicy. I'd say both sides are right.
Another argument in favor of the method is the quicker cook time it allows. We had our savory meals in 15 minutes or less.
Drake's invites people to "Come play." This could be seen as a reference to the whimsy of the menu or the atmosphere, which centers on drink specials and entertainment including trivia, weekend live DJ sets (yes, you read that right) and the big screens behind the bar.
The food was good, better than expected, though it's the place itself that I'd probably return for. In fact, Jon was already making plans to return with a crew of his buddies before we'd finished our meal. He plans to Uber so he can play at still being able to drink one of those beer towers.
Contact Jennifer Bardoner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6579.