Hootch & Banter
But What About the Food?
Sigh. It pains me to write this review, but as a Frederick native I feel it is my duty to tell the people of Hangry District my opinion on Frederick, MD's newest bar and eatery, Hootch & Banter. I was beyond excited to try this speakeasy-esque addition to downtown Frederick, which inherited the space of one of my most frequented bars as a 20-something - Canal Bar and Grill. But I was very disappointed to find mediocre food and sky-high prices. Keep reading to experience my highs and lows of this over-the-top spot.
I walked into the restaurant with butterflies in my stomach - it's not often that Frederick opens a swanky prohibition-era spot, or a new downtown restaurant in general. Upon entering, I noticed it was packed - a good sign! It was also First Saturday, and I'm sure everyone was eager to try the new joint. My parents and I sat at a banquette table, very close to other patrons - but not uncomfortably so. The renovated restaurant has maximized the space to squeeze in as many seats and high-top booths as possible. The decor is very classy - dark and sleek with bold graphics and warm lighting. Did I say dark? More on that.
It was LOUD in there. A dull roar if I say so myself - which led to my dad basically yelling the entire meal because he can't really hear that well (it was hilarious, don't say "awwww"). The noise level led to minimal banter and more hootch, as my dad used his flashlight on his phone to read the menu...it's dark, I tell you.
The cocktail list was exciting, with unique concoctions and classic libations to choose from. I asked our server to pick one for me and he questioned me about my likes and dislikes, which gave me confidence in our pal for the evening. He chose a Bees Knees for me - a classic gin cocktail with lemon and honey, and one of my personal favorites. It was good - maybe a touch too much honey, but I had no problem sipping it down. I was already a few cocktails deep that evening, so I only had the one - but am eager to go back a try a few more - even if they are upwards of $12 each. As a DC resident, those prices are not a huge shock, but for the people of Frederick I'd say it's a bit steep. *Remember the $5 Jäger Bombs at Canal!? Sigh, I miss that place.*
My parents and I were finishing up an app crawl around town (my literal favorite thing to do ever), so we went straight for some entrées. Dad got the "Kidd" Burger, an homage to the owner of the previous bar, and one of my dad's favorite hangouts upon moving to Frederick (the apple doesn't fall far). Mom went for the mussel appetizer as her meal, and made the best decision of the group. I was persuaded by our server to try the pork chop and could not have been more disappointed.
The burger. Dad ordered the burger medium to which the following exchange happened:
Server: That'll be served with a warm pink center.
Dad: *Thumbs Up*
Me: It better be! (jokingly and jolly)
Guess what? The burger looked like this:
See any warm pink in there? No? Me either. It was laughable. However, the burger was juicy and flavorful according to my dad and he ate the whole thing without a complaint. I did have to mention to our server that the burger was not in fact warm and pink, haha.
Next, Mom's mussels. I have to say this was the best thing we tried. The mussels were fresh with a Thai inspired broth, that could've used a little more salt and a dash more heat, but overall perfect for Dixie (mom) and served with a warm baguette ready for broth dipping. We did have to wait about 10 minutes for another baguette and by that time the broth was cold and the mussels were gone - but the baguette was perfectly crisp and warm, so it was devoured in seconds.
We were informed that Chef Colin Suser was a seafood extraordinaire, so we probably should've stuck to seafood. Because.... the pork chop was a sad, dry, mushy plate of regret. I am so sad about it, I just can't understand how this dish could have gone so horribly wrong.
What is the deal with the random tomatoes and three lettuce leaves? Is this a garnish? Is it my salad? Do I eat it? What is happening?!
And the potatoes -- two roasted fingerlings with no seasoning, no sauce, no instructions - just pure confusion. Both of these elements look like afterthoughts with no cohesion to the rest of the dish.
The pork: see that dark red stuff underneath? That's cabbage that was so overcooked it basically dissolved in my mouth. The perfect accompaniment to an overcooked, fatty pork chop smothered with apple baby food and two whole thyme sprigs. Sigh. I just had really high hopes for a nicely seared chop with crunchy, vinegary cabbage and a crisp apple gastrique. Everything was just mushy, too dry, too wet and too confusing. I had two bites and surrendered it to my father, who would never let any pork chop go uneaten.
I have a hunch that this dish sat under the heat lamp for way too long, causing mayhem. I'm hoping that's what happened because for $26 this is shameful and I would have rather made my own. It's OK for pork to be juicy, guys! You can do it!
I have to note, our service was very good for how busy the restaurant was. They probably asked us nine times, "how was everything?" I have a hard time being honest when I'm at the restaurant because the server isn't preparing my food - but I was very happy with my water always being full, dishes cleared when the whole party was finished and food arriving in a well-timed manner.
Anyway, I've heard very mixed reviews about Hootch & Banter - some love it, some don't - and I'm not giving up on it yet. But it will take a lot for me to be willing to spend that much money on a risk to see if "maybe I just ordered wrong?" and revisit the swanky speakeasy. Let me know what you think about this new hot spot in the comments below!