The growth that the South Wedge has seen in the last few years hasn't slowed down; in fact that momentum has carried over to the bordering Swillburg neighborhood. The new interest has brought the opening of three businesses each trying to establish their identity in this transitioning area: The Playhouse/Swillburger, and the parking-lot-sharing duo of McCann's Local Meats and The Cub Room.
Greg and Jodi Johnson, The Cub Room's owners, are trying to bring an old school New York City V.I.P. aesthetic to the Edge of the Wedge complex near the corner of South Clinton and Gregory. The Stork Club — that prestigious Manhattan night club — is one of the inspirations, and after looking at some photos, I can see how The Cub Room's high backed booths and major amounts of wood play into that vibe. The typical design accoutrements of a modern reclaimed space are here, including exposed beams and piping, brick wall accents, and Edison bulbs galore. Despite the active bar area, the restaurant's feel is more upscale date night than a party scene, especially with the dim lighting and cozy seating arrangement.
The drink menu is extensive, and features a full beer, wine, and cocktail list as well as a long offering of liquors by the glass. On the cocktail side of things, my wife enjoyed the warm apple pie-like flavors from the applejack and allspice dram in the Honey Rider ($10). The Butcher Is In ($10) was a potent but slightly too sweet combination of reposado tequila, añejo mezcal, bitters, and simple syrup.
The Cub Room has a relatively short beer list, but I was able to pick out the Super Fresh from Peak Organic Brewing ($6), a fascinating double pilsner style beer that straddled the line between a lighter brew and a more resinous IPA.
The Cub Room's menu isn't mind-blowing or particularly original, but I appreciated the limited use of ingredients and the seasonal twists to the dishes that remain staples over time. A prime example of that is the Kurobuta pork chop ($30) which is currently served with an apple mostarda, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a chestnut purée. Each element made the dish warm and comforting, and the flavors balanced nicely. The fatty ribeye-like chop came out at a beautiful just-under-medium temperature, but it did lack an aggressive crust.
The roasted vegetables on that dish, and on the otherwise successful chickpea cakes entree ($18), were inconsistent, leaving me confused about the end goal. On the other hand, the combination of artichokes, escarole, and olives that came along with the seared scallops ($28) were spot on. The scallops themselves had good color, but the sear was inconsistent, which led to some odd exterior textures that didn't work. It was a tasty dish overall, but there were some whole segments of Meyer lemon left on top of the vegetables that were unpleasant.
House-made tagliatelle bolognese ($20) was served nicely al dente but the consistency of the dish didn't work. The combination of ground veal, pork, chicken, and pancetta in the overly creamy sauce ended up dry and grainy. This was also an occasion when the flavor of the meats combined added up to something less than they would have been individually.
The appetizers were where The Cub Room made a strong impression. The stuffed peppers special ($12 for three peppers) consisted of small roasted red peppers coated in a bright and addictive saffron tomato sauce. Ground pork with pine nuts, onions, and garlic added some needed texture and light nuttiness. A simple dish, but very well executed. A braised pork cheek ($14 for two servings) was served atop a crispy grit cake and topped with a cabbage slaw. The combination worked well with plenty of textural contrast and balanced flavors. Finishing salt brought the dish to another level. The burrata ($15) burst with creamy deliciousness when cut and made a great combination with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil when spread on the thick-cut toast.
The chocolate Nutella cake dessert ($8) was accented by orange in the subtle ice cream and an intense marmalade like sauce. The cake was barely set and had a nice brownie like crust outside, but the orange flavors obfuscated any of the hazelnut characteristics.
In something slightly out of the ordinary, I want to mention the fantastic service we received from a specific waiter during our visits. A fine gentleman with even finer hair named Ben made an impression on my wife and I by perfectly reading the mood of our table. He consistently kept us engaged and amused during our meals and was eager to feed us information as we asked for it. Of course it wasn't just Ben that made the service notable, the rest of the team was attentive while still remaining relatively casual.
You can read more from Chris Lindstrom or listen to his podcast on his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.