Restaurant review: 101 Beer Kitchen brunch delivers a comfort-food punch

From the April 10, 2014 edition

The newish brunch service at 101 Beer Kitchen aptly displays this place’s charms. Its hearty and sneakily crafty fare is unabashedly masculine, yet smart, stylish and accessible enough to have broad appeal. Plus, while 101’s scratch-made, relatively inexpensive brunch dishes exhibit many down-home Southern and zesty Southwestern influences, there’s a decent-enough range of meats, seafoods and sweets to please a wide swath of eaters. No, it’s not vegan-accommodating, but the only other thing in super-short supply on 101’s succinct brunch menu is effete fussiness.

After being seated in this understatedly attractive and unpretentious place — a decent age cross section of the local population occupies its three distinct spaces (I always head straight for the bar area) — order a “Brunch Cocktail.” These range from the unusual grapefruit-soda-like German beer called Stiegl Radler ($6; pleasant, and only 2.5-percent ABV) to the Concord Cocktail ($7; with Hendrick’s gin and elderflower liqueur, it’s like floral, sweet-restrained grape juice) to a killer Bloody Mary ($8). Garnished with a veritable hors d’oeuvres sampler (a block of fresh mozzarella, salami, olive, pickle and self-immolating chili pepper), 101’s Bloody Mary is pulpy, spicy, horseradish-y, thick, acidic … and it packs a buzzy wallop.

The single-page brunch menu also offers lotsa stuff from its regular food document, but I focused on the newer dishes. These include starters like a crunchy-shelled and maple-sweet-kissed Breakfast Scotch Egg ($5), whose just-right, soft-boiled ova was deeply enriched by a morning sausage and cornflake breading. Nice.

In a similar gift-wrapped-and-porcine-enhanced vein are 101’s upgraded Pigs in a Blanket ($6). The little swaddled hogs are fashioned with flaky homemade pastry dough and slices of Nueske’s smoky/juicy “Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst.” What’s not to like?

Brunch entrees display a sound tendency to stack synergistic goodies onto a soak-it-up base a la 101’s excellent Southern Benedict ($10). That twofer used a duo of fried green tomatoes planted in creamy cheese grits to house thick-cut and charred ham, red-eye gravy, collard greens and poached eggs. It was a salty, sweet, smoky, rich and zingy home run.

Transplanting a similar flavor-bomb aesthetic farther south and west gets you 101’s “hurray-and-ole!” version of “Steak & Eggs” ($13). Here, a crispy fried corn tortilla hosted fall-apart-tender pot roast-y short rib meat, pinto beans, spicy and cinnamon-scented mole sauce, a sunny side up egg and garnishes of fresh guacamole and queso fresco.

Homey and comforting quick bread is the ballast for 101’s Open-Faced Fried Chicken Biscuit Sandwich ($11.50). Nestled above homemade buttermilkers were several plump and crackly battered and fried chicken tenders doused in sweet “chili honey gravy.” Providing welcome contrast was a perky “watermelon salad” with arugula, red onions and cubed and diced fruit.

The hits kept coming with 101’s Southwest Style Biscuits & Gravy ($10). Layered on sweet and jalapeno-and-cheddar-punctuated golden cornbread were sunny side uppers, righteously creamy chorizo gravy with a mild bite and a contrapuntal black bean relish. Might want a nap after that one.

Actually, you should stay awake long enough to share the brunch dessert 101 Twinkie ($11) with a deserving partner. Amusingly formed like the endangered junk food favorite — though about four times the size — it’s hole-punctured (challah) bread pudding filled with vanilla pastry cream. The crusty log is placed on a sticky-but-delicious lake of mixed berry sauce studded with fruit. We’re not done yet, because slices of applewood bacon gild the lily and fill in the missing salty, crunchy and smoky notes. All right, now it’s time for that nap.