This new branch of a strong-performing, burger-centric restaurant offers an expanded menu but maintains the company's reputation for high quality
Pat & Gracie's in Clintonville — a neighborly destination serving elevated pub grub — charges reasonable prices, succeeds at most of the modest things it tries and, consequently, is generally packed. Unlike countless sequels and spinoffs, the new Pat & Gracie's Downtown improves on the original model, primarily by adding more ambitious fare to a winning formula.
Similar to its overachieving, burger-centric forebear, you can smell seared beef near the entrance of the Downtown Pat & Gracie's. But you'll catch a whiff of something else there, too: wood smoke wafting from the snazzy pizza oven inherited from its predecessor, Lomonico's.
A casual and accommodating operation where you're as likely to hear Angel Olsen and Modest Mouse as Bruno Mars and John Legend, the restaurant inhabits an L-shaped room featuring: brick; scarlet-and-gray accents; numerous TVs; red chandeliers; and plenty of wood — some repurposed from barns. Overseeing the high-energy action are notably friendly servers wearing jeans and black T-shirts.
About a dozen craft beers are on tap, and they're all half-priced during happy hour (3-7 p.m. weekdays). Local liquors and other esteemed ingredients lend distinction to a solid roster of cocktails. The Old Fashioned ($10), made with Kentucky-sourced Buffalo Trace bourbon and Luxardo cherries, is a bold and potent example.
Every item available at the Clintonville shop is offered here, including popular (if passe) dishes invigorated by fresh ingredients, plus made-from-scratch techniques. This includes the good, herb-flecked, cigar-sized Mozzarella Sticks ($8.99) and the better House-Made Tots ($7.99).
Outclassing either as a starter are the pizzas baked in the place's wood-fired oven. Diners with an eye for such details will notice the oven is somewhat domed, like those found in Naples, Italy. Sure enough, splendid Neapolitan-style pizzas with thin, crisp crusts and puffy, smoke-scented edges issue from it. The prices are right, too: a pepperoni and peppadew pepper pie with zesty sauce and flavorful cheeses costs $10.29.
That oven is also used to put the finishing touches on entrees not served in the Clintonville branch, such as the huge and terrific Peruvian Chicken ($15.79), which arrives with an unnecessary but delicious creamy cilantro-and-jalapeno side sauce. The half-bird yields tender, juicy meat beneath wonderfully crackly, dark-golden-brown skin with a penetrating, cumin-and-paprika-forward spice rub. On the side: sturdy, skin-on mashed red potatoes and nicely grilled, lemon-brightened thin asparagus spears.
Identical sides — they're good, but I'd prefer more variety — accompany another enormous entree with appealing textures and simple, clear flavors: the attractively seared Double-Boned Pork Chop ($19.29). Candied pecans and brown-sugar-spiked butter lend the thick but tender chop sweet notes nearly held in check by an apple-cider glaze, plus smoky and salty accents.
Daily specials merit attention, too. The featured Saturday evening entree of Prime Rib ($19) does the comforting old-school favorite proud by properly roasting the hulking slab to dusky pink (if ordered medium-rare) and serving it with a righteous beef jus and horseradish mayo. House mashers are on the side again, but this time with steamed, buttered broccoli.
In an era when $15 a la carte hamburgers aren't uncommon, it's nice to know that the excellent decked-out, two-patty burgers served here for $10.79 come with top-notch fries. Although the Chimi Burger has far more creamy avocado flavor than zippy chimichurri character, the fresh, griddle-smashed black angus beef still makes it special. Caramelized onions, melted Monterey jack cheese, bacon and a buttery, toasted brioche roll add to the messy fun.
Making sure customers are satisfied and having fun seems important to this versatile and reliable place. On the one occasion when an order was marginally wrong, my server insisted on gifting me a towering piece of irresistibly fudgy chocolate cake. Although already full, I'm hardly one to pass up a little more fun.