A great beer bar, but the menu needs work
Allston has a new beer bar. It's called Deep Ellum , and according to MapQuest it's 0.35 miles down the road from Allston's old beer bar, Sunset Grill & Tap . Both establishments offer Belgians and stouts, lambics and rauchbiers, IPAs and organic brews, porters and ambers and pilsners and more. Let's hope the denizens of Allston are thirsty.
But Sunset's sort of like the frat boy of beer bars: an establishment that serves food in categories such as "appeteasers," "dippers & poppers," and "nacho mamas," and offers beer poured by the yard. It's fun, just maybe not if you're looking for a dark, low-key corner to wind down in with your pals.
That's where Deep Ellum comes in. In the old Reel Bar space, it's more like the indie rocker of beer bars, with a cool soundtrack (one recent night, a long string of Kinks songs), low-watt light bulbs, and a menu that offers steamed pretzels with mustard, a vegan burger, and something called the Best Wurst Plate. (It also has a black-and-white tiled floor you're sure to recognize from the bathroom of at least one apartment you've lived in.) If it reminds you of a mellower, scaled-back Bukowski , that's no accident -- several of the Deep Ellum folks have ties to the tavern.
When we stroll in shortly after 7 on a Friday, we're greeted by the smell of bleach. "Well, at least we know it's clean," someone says cheerfully. And thus the night begins with a positive spin.
For more on Deep Ellum, see Cheap Eats in next week's Calendar.
The bar's name, according to its website, "refers to an area of Dallas known for its fabulous music, incomparable food, and enticing nightlife since the early 1900's ." We are so ready to be enticed.
And at first we are, by "hot damn wings" and something called grubbins : Fish is sandwiched between potato rounds, and the whole thing is battered and deep-fried. The grubbins are served with fries, which are so tasty they don't even seem redundant. The wings aren't "hot damn," more "warm tarnation," but they're a perfectly fine accompaniment to beer. (Though maybe not the Péché Mortel , which could pass for iced coffee in a blind taste test.)
The problem with having enjoyable appetizers is that they trick us into ordering some of the ambitious-sounding entrees. And that's where things go wrong. "I want to get the artichoke," a friend says to the waiter, "but I'm scared." Stuffed with "caponatta," it seems the sort of thing that could either be very good or a total disaster.
"It's delicious!" he promises. More positive spin.
After she gets third-degree burns from the dish the artichoke's served in, crunches her way through some of the dried-out orzo and veggie stuffing, attempts to munch on a few inedibly hard leaves, and learns that the artichoke is served without its heart, the very best part, our friend comes to the conclusion: total disaster. Let's hope that heart serves its new owner well, because the donor is done for.
A seafood lasagnette is as hefty as its name is delicate, but at least it tastes good. But the vegetarian lentil stew looks as if a cat ate a copy of the Moosewood cookbook and then regurgitated it. Had the lentils been thinned with a bit of broth, the dish might have been saved. As it is, we find ourselves pouring in splashes of beer and stirring. Once the flavors meld, it's actually an improvement.
As for the Best Wurst Plate, it may be the wurst of all. The sausages are OK, but they're served with something unplaceable and gross -- is it a pickled leek? -- and a side of the most horrendously scorched, yet mysteriously limp, potatoes we have ever seen. These burn victims should've been tossed right in the trash.
It's too bad -- as a hangout, we like Deep Ellum. There's little attitude, the prices are reasonable, and the music is good. The room is full of people who seem to be having a relaxed good time. Maybe alongside the Urthel Hop-It and Rogue Dead Guy , the owners should simply serve the likes of fries, wings, grubbins, and even some nacho mamas. It wouldn't be incomparable, but it would be enticing.
Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-2337; deepellum-boston.com . Entrees $10-$16, beer $2.50-$18.