You get a lot of banger for your buck at The Brass Door, the latest addition to the Downtown pub scene -- and the sausages aren't bad either.
The bangers are the sausages, for those not in the know about Irish or English food. And we'll leave the English out of it from here on, but let's do make this clear: These are two people who really like breakfast. They snicker at Perkins' Magnificent Seven, consider the Tremendous Twelve a mere taste, and to them, Denny's Grand Slam is a big sham.
Case in point: the Irish breakfast at The Brass Door, served all day. Two eggs cooked to order
(except poached), potatoes, toast, bacon, rashers, black pudding and white pudding, bangers, grilled tomatoes and maybe even a bite of homemade tomato chutney. Broken down by numbers, it's around a Fabulous Fifteen. It's also very well done and for the breakfast lovers among us, makes for a new place to add to the rotation.
These meats aren't actually new, but the names are. Think of black pudding and white pudding as boudin, the former with blood and the latter without. They're sausages made with a meal or grain (probably oatmeal in this case, while it's rice with boudin), scraps of meat, fat and seasoning.
The meat is typically pork, though it doesn't have to be, and the blood mixed with the black pudding would most often come from a pig. The white is unoffensive, though not particularly flavorful, either -- the Louisiana boudin spices are not in play here.
The black pudding is an acquired taste, at least to my palate. My first introduction, about 20 years ago, was to a particularly strong sausage and a vile experience. The Brass Door serves a much milder pudding, and each breakfast plate has only two pieces of each variety, cut from a link and lightly pan fried. You might like it, and you might not. You won't go hungry if you don't.
Rashers are bacon, but it's cut from the back of the pig and is somewhat similar, though superior in texture and flavor, to Canadian bacon. You'll recognize your typical breakfast bacon, often called "streaky" bacon by the Irish and the English for the streaks of fat. (Permission granted to rap the knuckles of anyone who refers to rashers as "proper" bacon.)
The bangers are a tightly pressed, lightly seasoned pork link, and the grilled tomatoes, thick-cut potato slices and hearty brown bread are all delicious and make up a plate of food that not many will finish.
The burger is among the best in town, hands down. It's a huge hand-formed patty, properly salted (you've got to have salt on the outside of a burger when you sear it; it enhances the flavor beyond possibly any other single factor), tender from being minimally handled, juicy, tucked between two slices of sharp cheddar and served in a bun with a delicate and slightly crunchy top.
It's $8.50 with a side of hand-cut, dark fries that you can eat plain, dip in the warm curry sauce that comes with, or splash with a bit of malt vinegar. The fries are called chips here, of course, and were built up to near mythical perfection. Here's the deal: They are good, and compared to frozen fries you get at the majority of places around town, they're great. But if you typically cut and fry your own, you know that these are just fries. Someone show me great hand-cut onion ring and I'm going to be more impressed.
But the interior of The Brass Door is indeed impressive. The owners did a great job rehabbing the building and creating a spot worthy of gathering for a pint or a bite. The big, polished wood bar dominates the center of the lower level (really, the midlevel, though the basement is for special events only). There is plenty of beer, including Guinness, of course, on tap. And there is a massive brass door at the entrance to welcome guests.
On both visits, service was friendly and efficient, above par on the interaction level, though we did have to ask for a bowl for mussel shells (the mussels were of good quality, though the broth had a stronger ale flavor than needed), and on the first visit our meals were delivered at different times. Still, the first to come out was the breakfast, and no one wants cold (perfectly over-easy) eggs.
The shrimp toast appetizer looked skimpy when delivered: Four shrimp on a piece of toast for $9.50? But the shrimp were good and the sauce positively decadent. It was rich, made with reduced heavy cream, butter, white wine, lemon and shallots. The heavy brown bread, lightly toasted, was a hearty bed for it all. There's a nice selection of salads on the menu, and this dish with a side salad would make a meal.
But the meal for the coming weather, and come it will, is the Irish stew. Chef Scott Donnelly (formerly of Currents and Paulette's) does a lovely job with this. Fork-tender lamb, and plenty of it, is served in a wide flat bowl with carrots, potatoes and onion. A thin but flavorful broth with a bit of garlic, a dash of black pepper, a bit of thyme and a profuse meatiness pools around it all.
That and a pint will keep anyone warm and happy.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
The Brass Door
Address: 152 Madison.
Telephone: (901) 572-1813.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.
Reviewer's choices: Irish breakfast ($11); Irish stew ($13); shrimp toast appetizer ($9.50); burger, chips ($8.50)
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars