Over the past two decades, Payman Bazooband has established himself as a market-savvy restaurateur with an eye for the unusual. He was an original partner (though he’s no longer involved) in Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill, and is the owner of Brasa, the Triangle’s only Brazilian steakhouse. In 2011, he turned heads with the opening of Red Monkey Tavern, a brash gastropub with a steampunk decor and an actual vintage biplane hanging in front of the restaurant in the common area of Crabtree Valley Mall.
Then why, you might ask, did Bazooband open a pub whose most salient decor features are flat screen TVs and a patio in a generic mega-shopping complex? Sure, pubs with an extensive selection of craft beers are a hot market trend, and outdoor seating adds that “beer garden” cachet. And, while draft beer tap handles have been drawn like iron filings to the magnets of the area’s downtown nightlife districts, the suburbs have largely been left out of the picture.
Bazooband’s latest venture appears to have the “market-savvy” part in spades. But where is the “unusual” in Brier Creek Beer Garden?
It’s in the menu, that’s where. And boy is it ever. Under the deceptively ordinary headings of Apps, Salads, Soups, Sandwiches and Entrees, the offering takes you on a vertigo-inducing carnival ride – with frequent excursions on the fusion tilt-a-whirl – from fried bologna to French cassoulet. Other temptations for gastronomic thrill seekers include Pint of Bacon (spiced candied bacon served cool in a pint jar); Fried Cheese Grit Bricks (stone-ground, amped up with goat cheese and stacked on a puddle of tomato sauce); and Cowboy Casserole, a comfort food bonanza of tater tots, ground beef, onions, peas and carrots in mushroom gravy, topped with crispy fried onions.
Veering even further from the pub fare stereotype, more than half of the three dozen listings are marked as vegetarian or gluten-free. There’s even a vegan sandwich called Dates in a Blanket: “fresh pretzel roll toasted with peanut butter, date, tart berries and celery.”
Tickets to ride are eminently reasonable, with most starters under $10 and entrees in the $12-$15 range. True, the fried bologna will set you back $7. But it’s money well spent on a thick well-charred slice, cut into wedges and served with house-made pickles and spicy mustard to compliment the smoky sausage. Served on a rustic tin plate, it’s a surprisingly satisfying nibbling companion for any of BCBG’s 52 draft and 150-plus bottled beers (including many local brews).
Pretty much everything, from pub classic to trend-of-the-moment, gets a tweak – or a full-on makeover. Wings are baked with a dry rub, and nachos are German: a massive mound of crisp, skin-on potato slices, hunks of kielbasa and sauerkraut topped with a spicy curry cream sauce. The pub’s take on a Juicy Lucy burger comes loaded with melted cheddar, house-made brisket chili and crispy fried onions.
You can get the brisket as an optional topping on a salad, but I wouldn’t recommend it, judging by the drab, dry slices I was served. If you want to add some protein with a twist to a salad, try the duck – on, say, the apple and arugula salad with a honey-cider vinaigrette.
If you’re a fan of duck, you’ve come to the right place. It turns up as confit atop the cassoulet, and as lean, meaty shreds in a spicy duck enchilada, blanketed in a sauce whose coffee-dark color and complex toasted-chile notes are reminiscent of Mexican mole. You can also score a crisp-skinned quarter of duck on the weekend brunch menu, where it’s paired with a Belgian waffle and house-made blueberry compote in BCBG’s quirky riff on chicken and waffles.
The kitchen jumps the trendy caramelized Brussels sprouts track and careens off into a surprisingly delightful salad of shredded leaves tossed with bits of country ham in a lemony dressing, topped with a poached egg. On the other hand, a good house-made dressing wasn’t enough to overcome wilted romaine leaves in an otherwise ordinary Caesar salad.
Most Canadians wouldn’t recognize the mushroom gravy in the “traditional” poutine, but it qualifies the dish as vegetarian. It’s tasty enough, too, that a Canadian-born dining companion wanted more of it. She did, however, point out that the cheese curds aren’t customarily melted to the point that they resemble molten mozzarella.
In contrast to the savory offering, the selection of homemade desserts sticks to the tried-and-true path. An otherwise excellent lattice-crusted apple pie was undermined by an under-baked crust when I ordered it, but the German chocolate cake was on the money.
Hits outnumber misses across the board, though, and judging by the way the place fills up even on weeknights, Payman Bazooband clearly has another hit on his hands. Barely six months after opening BCBG, the concept has proven so successful that he’s cloning it. He recently closed Tomato Pie in Crabtree Valley Mall to make way for this month’s opening of Crabtree Beer Garden. I’m sure folks in the Brier Creek area will agree with me when I say to mall-goers, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a wild ride.”
8521 Brier Creek Pkwy., Raleigh; 919-748-3900
Rating: ☆☆ 1/2
Atmosphere: generic pub
Noise level: high
Service: variable; can be slow when busy
Recommended: Brussels sprouts, fried bologna, German nachos, duck enchilada, German chocolate cake
Open: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday
Reservations: not accepted
Other: full bar (extensive beer selection); accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.