Bryan's a huge fan of whiskey.He discovered his love for whiskey when he started traveling a lot. As his travel increased, his opportunities for upgrades shot up the roof. All of a sudden he found himself with ready access to all sorts of free liquor in airplanes (first class), airport lounges, and on business dinners.
It was during this time that he began trying all different types of liquors, quickly honing in on whiskey as one of his favorites. He has since amassed a nice collection in our home, including several scotch whiskies that he regularly picks up at Heathrow whenever he passes through London.
In light of all this, it was hardly a surprise when our close friends found out about the new award-winning restaurant/bar called Saloon and immediately told Bryan that they had to take him there.
Saloon is a pre-prohibition style speakeasy right in the heart of Davis Square. It is the brainchild of Ken Kelly and David Flanagan, the same folks who opened the extremely popular Foundry on Elm in 2010.
Just a few months ago in February 2014, Thrillist named Saloon one of the top 21 whiskey bars in America (the only one in MA to make the list). The article cited the bar's extensive collection of whiskies (150+) as well as their excellent pre-prohibition cocktails. On top of all that, Saloon also has over 30 beers.
Though drinks are definitely their specialty (the cocktails and spirits menus overwhelm the food menu), the food - Irish and British pub food with a bit of a new American creative flair - is surprisingly good.
We visited early on a Saturday evening with our friends and their one and a half year old daughter. The energetic, buzzing atmosphere and noise level made it perfectly fine for them to bring a small child, and the staff was more than accommodating. We decided to go for dinner as well as drinks.
The entrance is surprisingly hard to find. Look for an unmarked door with a single gaslight that says "Saloon" in small letters (I regret not taking a photo of it). You then walk down a flight of stairs before emerging into a brick and wood paneled dark room filled with leather seats.
It really does feel like a speakeasy.
The menu is definitely more meat focused (after all, it's inspired by British pub grub). It's hard to find a lot of vegetables on the menu. The closest we got to getting greens was from ordering the Caesar Salad ($12), which consisted of romaine lettuce, Parmesan, and croutons. The salad was simple but pretty unremarkable overall.
The Beer Battered Pickled Peppers, on the other hand, were a hit. These little fried balls are actually cherry peppers (deseeded so they're not too hot!) stuffed with Boursin cheese and ranch dressing. The resultant ball is hot, crunchy, and rich and gooey in the center. I found it to be quite heavy so I could only eat one, but Bryan happily popped several of them.The Saloon Chicken Wings ($13), which are served with a with savory honey mustard sauce, are also very good. The marinated wings have excellent flavor, and we really liked how it went with the mustard sauce.
I opted for the one vegetarian item on the menu, the Wild Mushroom Risotto, which is made with Carnaroli rice (an Italian short grain rice commonly used to make risotto) and includes various wild mushrooms, bitter greens, Parmesan, and extra virgin olive oil.
I enjoyed the dish a lot. Overall the dish was light but it had plenty of umami from the mushrooms and the Parmesan to make it a very flavorful dish.
There was a special that day which consisted of the Wild Mushroom Risotto but with the addition of beef cheeks. Since Bryan usually prefers meat in his meals, he opted for his version, which he preferred (though I preferred the vegetarian version!).
Our friend ordered the Beef Two Way special, which consisted of a duo of Braised Beef Cheeks and Beef Belly served with a side of popovers.
After finishing the meal, Bryan and my friend Peter started tasting a bunch of different whiskies (mostly bourbons, since a vast majority of their whiskey collection - about 105 - consists of bourbons).
Because Bryan hadn't tried a lot of them before, he ended up asking the bartender to help us in tasting several, which he was happy to oblige. It was interesting to sample a variety of small tastes all at one place and figure out which particular regions or styles we liked better.
All in all, Saloon is a fun place to visit especially if you enjoy American whiskey. They have an extensive collection (see the entire menu here), and it's fun to try different ones. The food is solid as well. I wouldn't exactly call it a destination restaurant for the food alone. However, if you're really into whiskey, you'll appreciate the fact that you can enjoy your whiskey along with many classic gastropub dishes that are well executed and quite enjoyable.
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