The concept at Freret Beer Room might seem self-explanatory, but there's more than beer and bar food at the restaurant. Owner Eli Gay opened the Freret Street bistro in November, and it offers draft beer and chef Charles Vincent's creative takes on New American bistro fare.
A long wooden bar serves as a display for beer taps dispensing a rotating selection of 16 drafts, which change frequently and are labeled with general information including tasting and pairing notes. The list includes international and domestic beers and there are many locally brewed selections. Sitting down at the bar for a drink can serve as a mini-tutorial on the various brews, and staff and bartenders dole out samples and recommendations.
A saison from Blackberry Farm Brewery in Tennessee was recommended with seafood and paired beautifully with a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels served with thick pieces of charred bread. The steamed mussels swam in a smoked tomato and aioli broth full of soft fennel with the anise flavor contrasting nicely with the seafood brine.
Most dishes seem designed for sharing, and small plates and side dishes take up more than half the menu. Grilled broccoli serves as the backbone of a smoked trout starter and the slightly charred stalks are nestled on a bed of creamy romesco sauce and topped with pickled carrot slices. It's a colorful dish rich in smoky flavors balanced by the acidic pop of the carrots, but the addition of sugary candied almonds was out of place.
An excellent garden salad features carrots, radish slices, multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes and thick butter leaf lettuce. The fresh medley was draped in a punchy green dressing imbued with tangy buttermilk notes and a fierce kick of garlic.
The kitchen uses many locally inspired or sourced ingredients, including a grilled Two Run Farm pork chop, crawfish spaghetti and an olive oil-thyme pound cake served with Louisiana strawberries.
The restaurant's focus is heavy on small plates, but entree portions are generous, especially with the sandwiches. A massive barbecued chicken melt is served open-faced, topped with thick beefsteak tomatoes and a blanket of sharp Gruyere cheese. At first glance, the pan-fried chicken sandwich looks like a straightforward schnitzel folded into a bun, but a bite reveals a more dynamic mix of crunch and acid. The tender white meat is coated with a buttery, golden crust and served with snappy pickle slaw. Comeback sauce, the creamy Mississippi cousin to remoulade, is slathered on an airy brioche roll holding the giant sandwich together.
Though some food and beer pairing suggestions are offered, both menus can operate as independent concepts. At the moment, it feels like the restaurant's primary focus is beer. It's as good a place as any local spot to explore the world of beer, but as the restaurant grows and the menu evolves, it will be fun to see the kitchen adapt and incorporate more tasting notes.