Keeping track of serial restaurateur Yavonne Sarber's eateries is harder than remembering where I parked my car after spending a long day and night at ComFest. And it's just become harder, because Sarber's done it again. So to her intriguing and never-boring group of de-NOVO, Manifesto and Chez du Bon-turned-Fin, now add Oliver's Burgers, Steaks & Bourbon.
Keeping track of serial restaurateur Yavonne Sarberís eateries is harder than remembering where I parked my car after spending a long day and night at ComFest. And itís just become harder, because Sarberís done it again. So to her intriguing and never-boring group of de-NOVO, Manifesto and Chez du Bon-turned-Fin, now add Oliverís Burgers, Steaks & Bourbon.
Inhabiting the Downtown Lynn Alley locations of the former Thai Lotus and Mall Cafe, casual Oliverís has a masculine look thatís beef-and-bourbon compatible. Long, narrow and warehouse-y, black and brown dominate inside of Oliverís wood and just-excavated-looking brick walls. There are also retro leatherette booths, a lengthy bar, about a dozen sporty TVs and ó rare for a Sarber joint ó only one chandelier. Overall, the decor is cool, dark and practically understated, given Sarberís standards.
Oliverís three-pronged, testosterone-celebrating subtitle invites investigation, and on my first visit, the place exonerated itself fine on each count. Bourbon-wise, prices dictate you go big, because stellar selections like Angelís Envy ($10), Eagle Rare single barrel ($9), Knob Creek single barrel reserve ($10) and Four Roses small batch ($8) cost basically as much as ubiquitous old Makerís Mark ($8).
Bourbon is also delivered via house cocktails and intriguing two-ounce pours infused with everything from fig and vanilla to walnut and tobacco ($10). Among Oliverís cocktails, the Not Your Daddyís Manhattan ($12) turned out to be not anyoneís Manhattan. I donít mean it was bad ó I actually liked it ó but, aside from bourbon, its chocolate, chili and bacon flavors were hardly Manhattan-y.
When food called, prior to having a cow, I limbered up with a Chopped Salad ($6). In essence a well-executed Greek salad, it corralled fresh romaine lettuce with banana peppers, goat cheese, Kalamata olives and diced cucumbers and tomatoes. The palate-popping ensemble was slightly overdressed in a lively vinaigrette.
Time to cowboy up. Oliverís advertises a bison burger, a chorizo/beef burger and several ď1/3 lb. short ribĒ burgers garnished with everything from ham and eggs to mac-n-cheese. I tried the Downtown Jucy Lucy burger ($8), inspired by Minneapolis-originating, same-spelled sandwiches famous for having cheese distinctively encased inside the beef. Oliverís lightly seasoned version was sorta studded with cheddar and gruyere, and intensified by caramelized onions and a chipotle aioli. It was also enticingly seared and, living up to its leaky adjective, quickly liquefied most of its toasted, flaky and puffy bun.
Of the two steaks curiously only available, the eight-ounce Cajun Ribeye ($14) was juicy and nicely charred, just like my burger. It was also underwhelming seasoning-wise, as its ďCajunĒ spicing tasted only of garlic powder. The steakís generous accompanying sides were a decent medley of sautťed vegetables (squashes, mushrooms, peppers) and OK sweet potato fries (pass on the better-for-dessert caramel sauce) a bit under-fried.
Actually, the deep fryer and Cajun seasoning werenít having particularly good evenings. That Jucy Lucyís tacked-on side of Cajun Chips ($4; burgers are sold a la carte) were thin, flaccid, un-zesty curls tasting of garlic powder and oil. And an appetizer of Seasonal Fried Vegetables ($7) was a reappearance of the squash-mushroom-peppers crew from the rib-eye dinner, only this time, lightly crusted and fried in not-hot-enough fat, and so arrived limp and pooling grease.
My server wasnít having the best night either. A strong and friendly start was compromised when, after presenting the check, she disappeared for an am-I-getting-punked? long time.
If Oliverís was launched prematurely, well, itís still early in its voyage. Perhaps Sarberís many-restaurants experience can help patch up the leaks in her good-looking new ship. Iíll be back ... stay tuned.
Photos by Meghan Ralston