3.11.2015

A Gastropub Comes to Jolly Binghamton-town

It's not often we get a new restaurant in Binghamton to review. So when my buddy at BingPop, Joshua, starts posting on Facebook about new eats downtown, I pay attention. Right now, we have four new places either opening or getting set to open, and it's like Christmas for food lovers around here. First and most lauded, The Colonial, on Court St., opened a little more than a week ago, so Big Hungry Melinda and I hit it up right away. 

The interior is what I would call metro-masculine. You've got weathered grey wood, exposed brick, tin ceilings and wood paneling comprising the furnishings. The tables also are made of hard surfaces, which made me think this is more of a drinking place than an eating place.

Obligingly, we ordered a couple jalapeƱo margaritas, and then immediately ordered a side of extra jalapeƱos - the heat level wasn't what we were quite looking for. More zing, please! Our waitress was happy to bring them over, and with a few extra slices per drink, these were pint glasses full of spicy, piquant liquid refreshment. 




Chef Jordan Rindgen is touting the menu as Gastropub fare, so we ordered a combo of British pub classics and more Americanized dishes. If you know what's good for you (and also pretty bad for you), the scotch egg will be the first thing you order here. Across the pond, a traditional scotch egg is a hard boiled egg wrapped with ground pork sausage and deep fried. At The Colonial, that egg is soft boiled, the house made sausage is a wee bit spicy, and the fried coating is nice and crunchy. But what made the dish really special was the beet and celery salad underneath - the shredded beets lending sweetness and a huge punch of celery flavor from the light green leaves, lending salt, freshness and sharpness. That is not a mere garnish! The celery leaves made the whole dish - they delivered all the contrasting flavors you needed to counter the rich egg and savory sausage. Brilliant.



I liked the butternut squash croquettes considerably less. The squash gave the dumplings a little sweetness, and that was about all the flavor they had. The maple yogurt sauce underneath was tangy with a slightly smoky depth from the maple syrup, which was nice, but I'm not sure why the menu description mentioned chive, as they were just a garnish and didn't lend much to the dish. For me, next to that killer scotch egg, this plate begged for color and personality.



Melinda ordered the grilled cheese flight with tomato soup. That soup was rich, velvety, with sweet tomato flavor and a background tone of cheese funk that I really dug. This was a bowl filled with savory umami and we both loved it. We also loved the French onion grilled cheese, which was sweet, rich and sparkling with bold flavors like nutty Gruyere cheese while still maintaining its crispy grilled exterior. Unfortunately, we were not as enamored with the mushroom sandwich, which was soggy and surprisingly insipid in flavor, considering it packed a good deal of truffle-laden Gouda cheese that overpowered the rest of the ingredients. You smelled the truffle, and that pungent scent drowned out the cheese and fresh mushrooms but didn't taste like much of anything. 


Much better? Chicken pot pie, baby. This is one of my all-time favorites, and I was thrilled that it was so terrific here. I now have a local pot pie hook up! This dish had a pleasantly surprising depth of flavor that could only have come from a painstakingly house made stock chock full of aromatics and herbs. The sauce was jammed with chunks of stewed chicken and vegetables, and the puff pastry was crisp and buttery.


Melinda loves things done "Buffalo," style, so we tried the Buffalo and blue cheese fries as well, and were really disappointed with this basket full of frozen shoestring product, dressed in wing sauce with some crumbly blue cheese tossed on top. The fries weren't even hot enough to slightly melt the cheese, and they were ice cold within about one minute of arriving at our table. I suspect they were fried ahead of time and kept in a (not so) warming tray, then topped with the (cold) sauce and cheese for service



The Colonial was too new when we visited for me to rate it - they need some time to work out the kinks in the kitchen. They aren't serving dessert yet, though I hope they intend to - you can't be a gastropub without some kind of take on bread pudding or toffee pudding, right? 

The feeling I got from our meal was that Chef Jordan is really jazzed about the more traditional pub dishes and has worked incredibly hard to make them good, while someone else is insisting the menu be filled in with American dishes that are an afterthought for him. While that scotch egg was a masterpiece of flavor and texture, the croquettes felt unfinished. The pot pie and soup were soulful and earthy, but that mushroom grilled cheese still needs some tinkering, and the fries should disappear altogether. I don't know if this theory is true, but that's the story the food is telling.

But let's give it some time, shall we? I think there's real promise here; the good bones of great food. The Colonial had only been open a couple weeks, and I'll be back to really dive in and score it once they've got their legs under them.
 
Colonial on Urbanspoon

I also had dinner at a softly opened Citrea on Parade Day, which also is in downtown Bing. They don't have their full menu available yet, and my gut feeling is that chef is still learning his wood-fired brick oven and its particular eccentricities. But overall, the pizzas were pretty great. A little goopy, which is why I think the intimacy with the oven may not yet have come to fruition, but I think this place has a bright future. The flavors all worked.  A wood-fired brick oven will have hot places and cool places, and learning to control the temp and where to put each item to cook it to its maximum takes some getting used to, you know? Wood fire is fickle.


We even made time to stop in to the new Chatterbox Cafe and Oyster Bar. We didn't try any food there, but I loved the bright, eclectic, but still comfortable atmosphere. You know what else? They have an entire little menu of beer cocktails. That's reason enough for me to come back.



Binghamton is under a renaissance, you guys! It's pretty exciting. I'm heading later this week to Binghamton Restaurant Week's preview party, so I'm hoping to meet with folks and get some scoop. And you know where I bring the scoop! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!




3 comments:

  1. Thanks for these reviews. We may be headed to Binghamton for a Villanova spring soccer game in the next few weeks!
    Always like to know a good place to dine!

    Love, SMD's

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    Replies
    1. Linda, I would highly recommend Loft at 99 in Binghamton. Or if you want sandwiches and bar food, Zona and Co Grill.

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