Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Restaurant review: Public display of affection at Local

Pearl in the Grove’s Curtis Beebe expands his farm-to-table flair to San Antonio with Local Public House.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 11:44 AM

***1/2
click to enlarge TOOTHSOME THREESOME: Local Public House’s fried catfish, root beer float and fried green tomato BLT. - LARRY BIDDLE
  • Larry Biddle
  • TOOTHSOME THREESOME: Local Public House’s fried catfish, root beer float and fried green tomato BLT.

It’s a local thing. Just as he has proven with his flagship, Pearl in the Grove, chef Curtis Beebe believes in farmers — finding individuals with their hands in the earth who share his obsession with quality and freshness. These relationships link his dishes to tastes that can’t be duplicated by food that traverses time zones. In this latest venture, just 10 minutes south of the Pearl in what the locals (1,138 strong) affectionately call San Ann, he’s obviously struck a chord. As I drop in with my gastro-posse on a random weeknight, the joint is abuzz with happy faces.

Local Public House and Provisions' interior is a huge, open space with what seems like an entire Home Depot full of glossy white beadboard. It covers nearly every vertical surface from floor to, uh, ceiling — I hesitate because, actually, there is no ceiling. The building is open to the rafters. If you’re a budding contractor and want a building lesson as you down a craft beer and nosh on a pulled pork sandwich, this is the place for you. 

Watching the service team operate is ever so much fun. The bartenders and servers are in constant motion, whizzing to and fro, looping and turning to avoid the runners and barbacks. It’s like a hive, with Alaina, the queen bee (aka restaurant manager) surveying their every move.

If you catch one of the right tables, you can also see the open kitchen, where chefs track the orders on a slack wire with clothespins. This “public house” hums with activity. There’s a hip group of 20-somethings at the bar, sipping cocktails and comparing ink. There are older couples downing bottles of craft mead, and there’s a crowd of rowdy in-betweens, laughing and generally enjoying a Falstaffian joie de vivre. It seems San Ann has found a hub.

The menu is small, barely longer than the list of local farmers and ranchers and bakers and cheese-makers whose sustainable, organic products you are about to devour. You can start with some boiled peanuts or, perhaps, a basket o’ fries smothered in your choice of cheese and/or bacon and/or gravy. This is an awesome decision that weighs heavily on the discerning gourmand. Can your gut handle the triple play? Only you can decide.

I jump at the andouille corn dog bites, which to my mind are really misnamed. They’re simply three delicious sausages complete with sticks. I expect “bite” size spheres, but I don’t complain when the plate arrives. Perhaps because they’re not huge Texas State Fair portions, the diminutive description is apt, but you could fool me. The sausage is not overly spicy, and the corn coating reminds me of polenta (a good thing). Add some piquant mustard and the evening starts with a bang.

click to enlarge Beebe's latest restaurant rests in an aged brick building adjacent to San Ann's City Hall. - LARRY BIDDLE
  • Larry Biddle
  • Beebe's latest restaurant rests in an aged brick building adjacent to San Ann's City Hall.

After last week’s pulled-pork triumph, I’m a bit hesitant to try Local’s version lest I be disappointed. But I needn’t worry; this version has great bread, juicy meat with distinct smoke, crunchy slaw, and a slightly chunky BBQ sauce with perfect acidity to complement the fatty pork. I’m not swooning, but I’m a very happy pappy.

Even better is the fried green tomato BLT featuring Nueske’s artisanal applewood-smoked bacon, long a favorite of obsessive foodies. Local smartly adds a lightly breaded fried green tomato to a luscious vine-ripe red one on fresh bread with even fresher local greens. It’s hard to imagine a better version of this classic.

They’ve also got a chicken liver po’ boy or a shrimp remoulade salad roll for your dining pleasure. All the sandwiches come with your choice of crunchy slaw, fries sans decadent toppings, juicy fruit, their famous sweet potato chips or a small green salad that will remind you why local produce rocks — especially with chef Beebe’s inspired kumquat and Vidalia onion vinaigrette.

The Nawlins-inspired cuisine continues with vegetarian red beans and rice or a tasty domestic farmed catfish. It’s full of flavor and not too fishy, with a light flour/cornmeal dredge and housemade chips that will make you forget Lay’s. There’s a depth to these crisp spuds that are fried to a golden brown.

Be sure to save room for a sweet finish. And if you are a root beer float fan, you must try Local’s version. It’s built around an absolutely wonderful craft root beer from Abita, a microbrewer of note. I have a soft spot in my heart and on my palate for this simple combo. Just as there’s a magical alchemy with leeks and potatoes to create the wonder of vichyssoise, creamy vanilla ice cream with the carbonated sweetness of sassafras can be transporting. This is a float for connoisseurs.

They also offer fresh fruit or a sea salt brownie, and on my visit, a cookie variation that is crisp and bursting with sugary, chocolate goodness, with a savory touch of salt to heighten the flavors.

Add a short, smart wine list (as at the Pearl) to Florida’s finest brews on tap, and you’ve got a great recipe to boost the economy. It’s a Local thing. 

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