Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: The Blue Tusk

Name: The Blue Tusk
Address: 165 Walton St, Syracuse, NY
Phone: 315-472-1934
Neighborhood: Downtown (Armory Square)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Upscale Bar Fare, Sandwiches
Bar Hours: 11 AM to 2 AM Monday-Saturday
Restaurant Hours: 11 AM to 11 PM Monday-Saturday
Parking: On-Street
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Take-Out: Yes
Alcohol: Full Bar

On a snowy afternoon and looking for some lunch prior to the big SU basketball game, I wandered into Blue Tusk on Walton Street in Armory Square.

Inside is a tad upscale compared to most local bars, yet it doesn't prevent the place from being fun, casual and lively complete with friendly bartenders and a good mix of patrons (on this particular visit, it was filled with a plethora of suburban entitled SU fans and families, but I digress...). The vibe is really laid back and comfortable and the music selection, via Sirius Satellite Radio, fits in well too. It's more or less indie rock and jam bands, but it ties in really nicely with the whole ambiance. For what it's worth, the music was also set at a perfect volume (I really can't stand when a place has it inappropriately loud or is playing the wrong style). Thumbs up.

Speaking of music, there's quite a bit of Grateful Dead themes going on here (artwork on the front of the menu, the website design, and even music that was playing as I was ordering my food). I'm not a big Dead fan honestly, but it's nice to see that they have a theme and a brand down. It's good marketing.

There's plenty of different areas to grab a seat or table: there's a few long, cafeteria-style tables in the back room, a couple small and intimate booths in the middle room (which is very reminiscent of my old College bar hangout), stools and a long counter along side the expansive windows facing Walton Street, stools at the bar, and tables up near the main entrance that overlook the pedestrian courtyard and walkway between Walton and Jefferson Streets. And weather permitting, there's a lot of outdoor seating at the courtyard and along Walton Street which is great for groups, socializing, people watching, and eating outdoors in the city.

Ordering food and ordering drinks takes place at two separate areas: the counter off to the side is for ordering food and where you'll see menus and a list of daily specials, while the bar is solely for drinks (on occasion you can consult the bar staff for a menu and order food as long as it's not too busy). There's no table seating and if you end up getting both drinks and food, bills are on separate checks.

Needless to say, with 69 beers on tap, the beer selection is phenomenal here. It's without a doubt the biggest variety in the city. Not only does Blue Tusk boast Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Duvel (which was St. Patties green on this occasion), Ommegang Witte, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA all on tap, but also features a nice selection of champagne, white and red wines, and various bourbons at their full bar. Beer tends to lean on the pricier side for Syracuse (about $5 a pint) but totally worth it given the quantity and quality to choose from.

The menu is creative for pub food and even gourmet in some cases. There's some really unique and interesting things to choose from like quesadillas (like the prosciutto and brie with cranberry chutney), specialty salads, chowders, gourmet soups, cured meats and cheeses, cold Mediterranean vegetable plates, grilled panini, specialty sandwiches like pigs in zen (with pulled pork, pâté, bacon, kimchi, red onion, cilantro, mayo and hot chile sauce on a round roll), and a carving board with meats that are slow roasted on premise and hand-carved to order. It's really a fantastic menu with a lot of temping choices.

The order...

Middle Ages Local Real Ale: $5
Jambalaya: $4.50
Lobster BLT: $11.75
Total money spent with tax & tip: $23.25

Pictured here next to the pager that you receive after placing your menu order, is Middle Ages Brewing Company's Local Real Ale: fresh cask conditioned ale, hand-pulled with authentic British beer engines.

A darkish, amber colored ale with an extremely smooth taste. A bit like a pale ale but with a significantly less overwhelming aftertaste. An excellent beer that by chance had just been delivered here the day prior.

Pictured above is the jambalaya (with white rice and thinly sliced pieces of sausage, onions, and celery) served with stretch bread.

The soup was served hot (a huge pet peeve of mine when it isn't), but I would have preferred a meatier and spicier sausage and maybe an additional vegetable (like peppers) as it seemed like it was missing some sustenance. There was a little bit of spice in there, but overall it was all a tad flavorless. Not bad by any means, but I'll opt for a different soup next time. As for the bread, it was great for dipping into the Jambalaya. I have this theory that if you add Pasta's stretch bread to anything, it instantly kicks everything up a level of awesomeness. Love it.

Also above is the lobster BLT: homemade knuckle and claw lobster salad, bacon, Gruyère cheese, Romaine lettuce, and thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions on a flaky croissant.

For what it's worth, I'm a huge lobster fan. It can be tough to find it on a menu in 'cuse, so seeing it here was a bit refreshing. But oh man, the lobster was really tasty - especially considering we're not anywhere near the coast. While the "salad" aspect was a bit non-existent (I wouldn't have minded a slightly better presence of mayo or salt and pepper), the lobster tasted very fresh. It's hard to bicker about missing subtleties when the main ingredient tastes so good on its own. Also, I've never had Gruyère cheese before, but it's a really unassuming cheese that's a bit like a mild Swiss and fits in really well here. Add fresh veggies and smokey bacon and it was a really good combination of tastes. Overall, it was an excellent sandwich with great textures and a nice balance of very fresh ingredients. I would definitely order this again (maybe even splurge the extra $6 and get double meat) but I'm just as enticed by a lot of other things on the menu.

Some other things of note...

- Space is available for parties in the back room and can be reserved at no charge. Check their official website for details.

- Happy Hour runs from 11 AM to 8 PM every day. $1 off all 20 oz pints and $10 off all bottles of wine.

- There's a flat screen TV near the bar that's good for watching a sports game.

- It can get busy on Friday and Saturday nights.

- This may be the only place where you can play Buck Hunter and drink Duvel. I'll have to check on that.

- Again, great place to watch the snowfall if you get a seat near the window.

Overall, I liked it here. It's a hip space in a great location with a creative pub menu and fantastic beer and wine selections. I'd say it's probably a better spot to get some finger food or for lunch than for an actual formal dinner out. It may hint on the pricier side for 'cuse, but with a great vibe, unique menu offerings, a clean and cozy interior, and good mix of people, it's a trade-off that's well worth it.

My rating of The Blue Tusk:

Your rating of The Blue Tusk:

1 comment:

Jim Johnson said...

If I spent every friday evening here for the next 30 years, I would consider it time well spent.