SARATOGA SPRINGS — “If I had my druthers, I’d druther have my Druthers than anything else I know . . .” Well, maybe I wouldn’t quite go that far, Li’l Abner, but I certainly wasn’t thinking I’d druther be anywhere else while dining at Druthers on a recent evening.
We stepped through a wrought-iron archway tucked rather inconspicuously into a gap next to the old Shoe Depot building on Broadway, the kind of little opening that you probably wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t consciously looking for it, then through a small courtyard, out of the blustery cold night and into the inviting scent of hardwood — the interior of Druthers is awash in wood, somewhat barn-like in its design, in a cozy, inviting sort of way.
My husband and I had a moment to glance around at the bar area and the large vats upstairs, the facility’s beer brewery, before being led into the dining room and seated in a comfy booth, where we were left to admire the decor, including rustic touches like a ladder and pails hung from the wooden ceiling, and peruse the abundance of tempting menu options.
Druthers Brewing Co.
WHERE: 381 Broadway, Saratoga Springs; 306-5275, www.druthersbrewing.com
HOURS: Seven days a week, 11:30 a.m. to midnight
OTHER INFO: MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover accepted; wheelchair-accessible
The menu isn’t tremendously long, but it’s innovative for sure. This isn’t just your typical burgers-and-beer place, though they do have a selection of burgers as well as a list of house-brewed beers. But the burger offerings include toppings such as Havarti cheese, fried egg, guacamole and aioli instead of the usual American cheese, pickles and such.
And the rest of the menu is similarly intriguing, featuring items like a duck confit entree served with polenta and a “loaded mac and cheese,” which includes bacon, smoked chicken, ranch dressing and barbecue sauce.
After a good while with the menu, we had a few questions for our server, who provided ready answers. We were hungry, but would starters plus entrees be too much food? He assured us that most people usually order a starter or soup and then an entree, but he told us that we could get smaller servings of some menu offerings if we wanted. It’s not listed on the menu, but we were told that the soups, salads and pasta dishes can be ordered in half-portions, useful to know.
Having settled that question, we were ready to order, but my husband was torn between a bowl of chili con carne or a bowl of braised brisket stew. He asked for our server’s opinion: Which of the two would he order? Our server recommended the chili, saying that it had actually won an award in a regional chili contest. Chili it was, then.
As for me, I ordered the fried chicken and chips, described on the menu as boneless chicken, chips, demi (-glace, one would guess) and cheddar cheese; I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this description, but I figured it was worth a shot.
When our starters arrived, I got my answer. What was placed in front of me was a skillet filled with house-made potato chips, smothered in gravy and topped with slices of cheese and chunks of fried chicken breast. You might think this sounds odd, and it does, really, but it tasted delicious.
The chips were nicely seasoned, thick and crisp like kettle chips without being burnt, and the chicken was juicy and had a tasty, crunchy coating and all of the ingredients worked really well together — though I could almost feel my arteries hardening as I munched my way through the pile.
My husband’s chili, meanwhile, was tasty, with a bit more sweetness than we’re used to in chili and a more uniform texture due to the use of ground beef. He wasn’t complaining, though, and he appreciated that the texture of it wasn’t too watery but rather thick and meaty. He emptied the bowl with no trouble.
For the main course, my husband ordered the bacon-wrapped meatloaf sandwich, which came with a side of fries that were shoestring-skinny, providing for more deliciously crispy surface area. As for the sandwich itself, it looked attractive on the plate, piled high, its bun branded with the Druthers name, a cute touch.
And it was a delicious sandwich; the meatloaf itself was unusual, rather porky in flavor, perhaps partly due to the bacon, and the barbecue sauce and crispy onions on top were tasty as well. But the flavor of the meatloaf was somewhat subtle, and so even though the meat had to have been at least 2 inches thick in the center of the sandwich, the taste of it was sadly overwhelmed by the toppings.
It wasn’t that this wasn’t a good sandwich, because it was. But you’d expect that in a meatloaf sandwich, the meatloaf would be the star, and it was upstaged a bit by the other flavor components.
I noted a similar issue with my mac and cheese, which was served in a cast-iron skillet and covered with a spicy crumb topping. I’d made a point of ordering the plain mac and cheese — it’s much easier to hide bad mac and cheese when it’s mixed with bacon or pork, and I wanted to see if this dish would be good without meaty assistance. The macaroni underneath the crumb topping wasn’t bad, nicely cooked and not mushy at all, though it was a bit on the dry side, not enough to be labeled as too dry but not laden with creamy sauce, either.
But the cheese flavor was very mild, and when you took a whole forkful, crumbs and all, it was easy to lose the cheese flavor entirely under the spices in the topping. The meal was still satisfying, but it could have been better if the spices stood back and made way for a more assertive cheese flavor.
We finished our meal with dessert; there were two offerings that night, and our server told us that their desserts are all house-made by their pastry chef, who changes the selections from week to week. On this night, they had a chocolate soufflé cake and the “petite five,” a plate of five miniature desserts, which sounded good to us. The plate held one chocolate truffle (dark, rich and delicious), a small lemon cheesecake (a bit too tart for us but a nice palate-cleanser), a peanut butter and jelly shooter (a small shot glass containing layered jam and peanut butter mousse — I loved it, though my husband didn’t care for it), a macaron filled with chocolate ganache (expertly made and quite good) and a miniature apple tart (our favorite of the five, with a crisp, cinnamon-laced crust). It was a sweet ending to a satisfying meal.
Our tab, with soup and a starter, a shared dessert, two entrees and the tip, was $65.64. Though we could make a few constructive criticisms, overall, we were pleased with our meal, and we’ll surely be back.