Restaurant review: New Wolf's Ridge Brewing is something to howl about
I felt so giddy after my initial dinner in the new Wolf's Ridge Brewing that I ran home and wrote "Wolf's Ridge is among the top five restaurants to open this year. What are the other four? I don't know and I don't care." Yeah, the premiere of this snazzy-but-unpretentious overachiever is roll-out-the-superlatives impressive.
From its do-a-double-take dishes to its intriguing drink lists to its huge but casually beautiful "farmhouse/industrial" space, WR exudes great taste and intelligence. Seriously, you should finish reading this later and head down there now.
You'll find a long and narrow room with huge communal tables, cozy two-tops plus dramatic vistas onto both Fourth Street and gleaming microbrewery fermenters. A high-backed banquette runs the length of the simple wooden floor beneath dangling naked bulbs emitting warm glows and a slate-grey pressed ceiling. Tack on white brick walls, a semi-remote bar, upbeat music, a loud-when-crowded clientele plus that sophisticated grub, and you've got the most exciting new place in town.
From the enticing suds selection, WR's maltier-than-expected "3 a.m. IPA" ($5; its name alludes to the brew crew's long hours) is the only produced-here beer currently ready - it tastes like a hybrid between a classic brown ale and a potent IPA. WR's cocktails are also cliche-eschewing (like the fruity/bitter Allegheny made with "fast-forward-aged" Cleveland Black Reserve bourbon, $9), and there's a tiny, Cali-leaning but atypical wine list.
Unlike most restaurants, WR's often-lightly-beer-inflected, GF-friendly food eats better than it reads. Sure, it features that old "creative spins on modern American favorites," but WR's prettily plated fare is distinguished by uncommon balance and verve.
Take, for instance, the endive salad ($12). Bitter greens, apple matchsticks, dried fruit, nuts and blue cheese daubs sketch out a familiar map. At WR, though, this takes you to someplace elegant.
Ditto with the nuanced corn bisque ($7 for a giant bowl). It's a pampering spoon-coater whose spell of lushness is occasionally (and prudently) snapped by grassy micro-celery leaves, just-threatening pasilla chili powder and crispy bacon bits.
House-made pickles are a pet peeve of mine because they're frequently overpriced yet often underachieve. Not here. Served in a generous bowl, my brined, bright veggie bouquet was bold and kissed with spicy curry, but not so much as to obliterate the original color, taste and texture of its cauliflower, carrots, haricot verts and sweet peppers (Curry Pickled Vegetable, $7).
My Dry Aged Duck Breast ($24) showcased arrestingly crackly skin. Beneath that crispy crust was butter-knife tender pink meat flattered by black currant jam, peppercorns, garlic, expertly roasted fingerlings (they were out of the menu-described gruyere mashers), wild mushrooms and "port syrup."
Those same good spuds anchored a refined vegetarian item from the supplemental meatless menu. Treating a spirited block of zestily Blackened Tofu ($12) a la its regular-menu walleye, the dressed-up bean curd also came with tangy smoked sour cream, micro-greens and a vibrant romesco sauce.
A vertiginously vertical but highly rewarding sashimi-grade Ahi Burger ($15) on a handsome bun blurred the gap between Latin and Japanese restaurants with multitudinous garnishes. While I liked its side of crispy, upscale McD's-style shoestring fries, mine should've been warmer.
The Habanera cheesecake ($6) didn't need improving. Exemplifying what's terrific about this place, the creamy key lime-like star's flavor was made better - and was never overwhelmed - by chili, a lovely "dry-hopped caramel sauce" and a killer nougatine tuile.
Outlook: If Wolf's Ridge maintains this sharp attention to detail and skillful balance, it's gonna seriously challenge some upper echelon restaurants.
Wolf's Ridge Brewing
215 N. Fourth St., Downtown