It didn't take long for Bayou Wine Garden to attract a following. The wine bar from the owners of the popular beer and bro-haven Bayou Beer Garden opened in January, and the two bars' connecting patios all but guarantee a built-in customer base, which ranges from busy on weekdays to animated on sunny weekend afternoons.
Wine is the main attraction here, with roughly 30 wines available on tap and a list of reasonably priced bottles. Most of the tapped wine is domestic and the lengthy bottle list is a good primer for those wanting to explore the world's wine regions.
The food menu is more hit-or-miss, and the most successful section is the house-made charcuterie. The wide selection ranges from airy mousses and pates to sausages and terrines. A peppery wild boar terrine is wrapped in bacon and studded with dates that carry soft sweetness — a good match for the earthy flavors. Lonza, made with Berkshire pork loin, arrives in thin, fatty strips and carries a flowery essence of anise, the effects of a strong fennel cure and an orange blossom water and fennel bitters rub. Duck prosciutto gets an Asian twist and is cured with Chinese five-spice, and clove and cinnamon notes give it a rounded flavor.
There's good bang for your buck here, too. A large plate of mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie runs $22 for five selections, which are generously portioned and accompanied by an assortment of mustards, chutneys and nuts —arguably one of the city's best-priced spreads.
A good portion of the menu features gussied-up bar food more than bistro fare. Fried popcorn escargot are an especially odd choice. The brined and flash-fried mollusks arrive a grayish and unappetizing color with a taste to match. The accompanying anchovy butter is good — a creamy and briny spread that would do wonders on bread — but it doesn't save the dish. Cold-smoked shrimp are fine on their own, but they sit atop a bed of wilted and sad-looking romaine tossed with a few charred corn kernels and red onions.
Goat cheese salad is a good example of the creativity at play in the kitchen when it works. The house-made cheese is light and fluffy, similar to ricotta. Adding roasted shiitake mushrooms lends the salad body and earthiness, which are balanced by tart dried cherries, toasted pecans and herbed balsamic vinaigrette.
Sandwiches include The Jerk, a play on jerk chicken that features pulled pork butt topped with smoked habanero and pineapple hot sauce and a shower of pickled okra and red bell peppers. It's a good-enough sandwich, but lacks heat and has more in common with a cochon de lait po-boy than a jerk dish.
The appropriately named Hangover ham banh mi arrives overflowing with bright pink slices of duck ham nestled with pickled vegetables. Duck liver mousse oozes through the bread's crevices with each bite, as does a bright orange gochujang aioli. Jalapenos add heat and crunch, and the medley is a glorious, over-the-top indulgence.
Though most of the sandwiches work, a streamlined menu might better fit the wine bistro vibe. After all, if it's bar food patrons are after, they can walk next door.