Gastropub's owners could school many in the art of developing a restaurant

Of the many things that irk me about chain restaurants, topping the list is how they can consistently draw huge crowds in spite of their food being, on the whole, mediocre. Swing by an Olive Garden or an O'Charley's on a Saturday night and you're going to wait 45 minutes to an hour for a table, guaranteed. Choose just about any of our terrific locally owned alternatives and you can get right in.

Why? Well, to name just a few reasons: proximity, familiarity and pervasive ad campaigns that keep chains top-of-mind.

With this thought, 101 Beer Kitchen, a single-location independent that's been open just a few months, simultaneously baffles and impresses me. Waits at this Dublin gastropub regularly exceed two hours on peak weekend nights, and can hit 45 minutes even on random weeknights.

What is this place doing right that very few other local spots can figure out? My theory is the owners carefully replicated everything those chain restaurants do right-co-owner and chef Thad Kittrell previously cooked for Brio, a homegrown Italian chain-and then bumped the food and drink quality up a couple notches.

The beers here are craft brews and the food is made from scratch using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Otherwise, 101 feels kind of like a chain restaurant. And that's not meant as an insult.

The location is a high-traffic shopping center. The space is expansive, with two spacious dining rooms separated by an industrial-chic horseshoe bar that's warmed by a giant fireplace-a leftover from the building's former tenant, Hoggy's. The rustic decor is polished, but generic. Service is friendly and consistent. They've got a slick website and advertisements.

The menu changes seasonally, yes, but it also follows a "something for everyone" template those chains have perfected. So there are always a few salads, a few sandwiches, a few pizzas and a handful of entrees (chicken, steak and seafood options, plus a few wild cards).

And nothing on the menu's gonna break the bank. The most expensive item is a $16 bowl of Cajun-style, andouille sausage-spiked shrimp and grits.

The long waits are a turnoff, and a call-ahead seating option left me unimpressed. One evening, the hostess quoted an hour-long wait on the phone; I arrived an hour later, only to be told the wait was another 40 minutes. You can always grab a bar stool or high-top table in the bar area if one opens up and order food there.

This place can be described as a gastropub, which means the owners have a healthy obsession with curating a draft and bottle selection that'll make beer geeks swoon. On the constantly changing tap lineup, I spotted rarities like Stone Ruination IPA and Great Lakes Blackout Stout.

But that dedication to a good beer list never comes at the expense of the food. On the contrary, many dishes incorporate beer, like a thick and creamy Ale & Cheddar Soup ($6) and mussels ($14) steamed in hefeweizen, the sweetness of that wheat beer meshing perfectly with the briny, herb-flecked shellfish.

The Grilled Scottish Salmon Steak ($14) is indicative of how 101 shines. This is simply prepared, good-for-you food presented prettily. (It's technically a salmon fillet rather than the steak the menu describes-but that's a more attractive, tastier cut anyway.)

The thick fillet boasts a chargrilled crust and is cooked to fall-apart tender medium and served atop a mound of wilted spinach and quinoa, that whole-grain superfood. On top, a shockingly bright drizzle of what resembles ketchup is actually a roasted beet sauce, its earthy sweetness adding an intense pop of flavor.

Plenty of goodies await on the appetizer list, so order a couple for the table. I especially liked smoky deviled eggs ($5.50) speared with crispy, salty prosciutto shards and the commendable Housemade Tater Tots ($6). Far superior to standard frozen tots, these incredibly dense balls of deep-fried fluffy potato become even more indulgent after being heaped with melted cheddar, thick-cut bacon "croutons" and a spicy sriracha cream sauce.

Now my only question is, will 101 Beer Kitchen eventually become a chain of its own, a la Bravo and Piada? You know, I hope so. They've got a winning formula and the demand, no question, is there.

7509 Sawmill Rd., Dublin

Hours:11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun

Price range: $15-$20 per person. Entrees range from $9 sandwiches to $16 hanger steak.

Reservations: Not accepted

In short: An expertly executed gastropub pairing noteworthy comfort food with good beer.

Rating: ? ?? ?


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no stars: poor