Last Saturday afternoon at Local Gastropub on South Main, a small but vocal anti-Kansas crowd watched Northern Iowa beat the No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed.
Of course, memories of meeting Kansas at the NCAA final in 2008 are still unpleasant ones for Tigers fans. Memories of the coach of that team linger as well. The guy at the bar next to me was asked if he wanted something to eat. "I'll take some Calipari," he said. It took him a minute. "I mean, calamari — I can't get that jerk out of my head."
Our order might have seemed just as odd as his. The pan-seared Tennessee duck breast ($21) is not exactly a bar snack, and it became even more weird when I learned that there was no wine list yet at Local Gastropub. (The restaurant hopes to get its liquor license approved this week.) So I had my duck breast with a glass of the rich Fat Tire ale they have on draught.
My dinner arrived in a concave dish, the duck medallions arranged on top of luscious cheddar cheese grits, the consistency of grainy mashed potatoes. (And that's a good thing.) The gamy taste of the duck was perfectly complemented by a balsamic reduction, but the medallions were brown, not pink.
You could make a better case for eating a ribeye steak with sweet potato fries at a bar with a beer in front of the television. And that's what my friend ordered. The Tuscan Ribeye ($24) was nicely flame-seared on the outside, and on the rare side of medium rare at the center, with a Worcestershire-style marinade and topped with a generous sprinkling of seasoned fried onion strips. I know this is a fatty cut of meat, but this serving still could have been trimmed a bit.
Another night, we started with the she-crab bisque ($5), which was actually thinner and less creamy than a bisque. But this broth, with croutons and small slices of vegetables such as red and green pepper, was based on a tasty savory stock.
The jumbo lump crab cakes offered generous portions of crab, dense and moist. The best part of that plate was a blue cheese and bacon slaw on the side — I would have been happy with lots more of that garnish.
Like the crab cakes, the seared sea scallops were plump and nicely done. But again, my favorite part of this dish was on the side, a crunchy risotto cake in crisp batter, along with bits of pancetta.
The 14-ounce pork chop ($19) was served with a ramekin of gorgonzola cheese. The menu described the cheese as an "herb crust" addition available with any of the red meat entrees. We sort of "buttered" the chop with the cheese.
On Saturday night, we took our waiter's enthusiastic recommendation about dessert. The fried apple pie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a rum and caramel sauce was perfectly balanced, hot and cold, sweet and fruity. At our next meal, we ordered it again, and this time, the crust appeared baked rather than fried and seemed more corporate in its uniformity.
Local Gastropub opened in January on the South Main site previously occupied by Sauces. The upstairs now is industrial but warm, with brick walls and concrete floors. The dining area in the basement may have potential, but at the moment still seems a less appealing place to eat than the street level bar.
Owner Jeff Johnson bought Sauces knowing he wanted to make the change to, as he describes it, a place where you can get a burger and a beer Monday and a sea bass or filet on Friday night. He was genuinely dismayed, when I called after our visits, to hear that we hadn't tried his contest-winning Championship Wings, described without modesty on the menu as the "best in town."
Until the Local Gastropub liquor license works its way through state bureaucracy, diners may bring their own wine with no corkage fee. Meantime, try the fresh, golden seasonal Samuel Adams Noble Pils on draught.
Address: 95 S. Main
Telephone: (901) 473-9573
Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Reviewer's choices: Pan-seared sea scallops with risotto cake, ($12); Jumbo lump crab cake, ($12) Tuscan Ribeye ($24); fried apple pie a la mode ($4.50).
Alcohol: Beer, bottled and on draught. Liquor license is pending; a full bar and wine list are planned.
— Peggy Burch: 529-2392