People who accompany me on dining reviews are often disappointed that the evenings aren't more debauched, boozier affairs, with drink after drink on the Scene's dime. But I learned early on in the gig to tread lightly on the drinks menu, for two main reasons: First, after a couple of cocktails, I can't focus on the details. (Was that fish grilled or pan-seared? Was the crust cornmeal or panko? Dude, where's my car?) Second, after a couple of cocktails, everything is just better—the food, the room, the company—everything. Hell, I'm even prettier. So I fear I may not give an accurate assessment of a place if I'm half in the bag.
With that latter point in mind, I offer this disclaimer as I launch into a review of The Patterson House, the new speakeasy-style artisanal cocktail bar on Division Street: I was drinking—a lot.
Gin, bourbon, brandy, vodka, Scotch: I slurped my way down the roster of old-school and new-fangled cocktails mixed with fresh fruits, house-made cordials, home-grown herbs—even eggs. I'm not saying my judgment was impaired, though I wasn't about to drive home. But it's worth mentioning my buzz, because it could be one reason I so thoroughly adored the place.
The latest project of Bar Twenty3 founder Ben Goldberg and his brother Max, The Patterson House delighted on many levels. Located in the building that formerly housed Patrick's and Edisto restaurants, the room has been expanded and reconfigured to abolish all traces of those predecessors. Interior designer Landy Gardner outfitted the room in rich textures and colors, with a dark-stained central bar surrounded by sumptuous chocolate-brown chairs. Subtle silver wallpaper with organic motifs reflects low light from chandeliers that layer classic crystal ropes and contemporary drum shades. A heavy curtain separates the restaurant's clubby inner sanctum from the waiting room, where guests cool their heels until seats at the bar or a booth open up. The Patterson House is not a place for elbowing your way to the counter while waving a $20 at the bartender.
On the contrary, everything about the experience is deliberate and genteel, from the nattily clad mixologists in vests and Windsor knots, to the laborious process of forming ice into perfect baseball-sized globes. With at least three bartenders serving 30 guests at the bar, the staff appears to have limitless attention for every patron. That's important, because you'll want to ask a lot of questions. For example: What is in all those tiny apothecary-style brown bottles with the eyedroppers? (House-made bitters.) Why are you cracking an egg into my drink? (To make it frothy.) And what, in the name of all that is salt-cured, is a bacon Old Fashioned?
Every question we posed was met with a detailed and authoritative response, learned during 100 hours of staff training prior to the April launch. A bacon Old Fashioned, for example, is made by frying up a batch of Benton's bacon, putting aside the meat and stirring a bottle of Four Roses Bourbon into the pan juices. When the bacon-liquor mixture cools, the pork fat rises to the top. A hole is punched in the cool fat and the greaseless whisky—infused with salt and smoke—is poured off and used in the drink. The whisky base has an intense meaty flavor that is deftly balanced with layers of maple syrup and coffee-pecan bitters in a formula that does not lean on overly sticky sweetness to get its point across. The unexpected marriage of bacon and booze—playful but by no means absurd—moves guests to exchange sips with strangers.
With 50 cocktails on the eloquent pressed paper menu—including 20 classics and 30 signatures designed by Toby Maloney—there's a lot to read, and for people who like to stick to one liquor, the menu is conveniently grouped by gin, vodka, cordials and so on. But hang out the bar long enough and you'll see something that you can't resist, or you'll hear someone so satisfied with her beverage that you'll inevitably ask for whatever she's having. If you find yourself sitting next to me, for example, I'll steer you toward the Reelfoot Manhattan. The titration of Bourbon and sweet and dry vermouths is built in a glass laced with Laphroigh Scotch and orange bitters. Served with an impressive ice sphere the size of a baseball and finished with a flaming orange zest, the smooth drink swirls with smoke, citrus and dark caramel flavors.
On the lighter side of the spectrum, we followed recommendations for the Terra Rica, a brandy-based concoction (named for the Goldbergs' girlfriends) with pineapple, spring bitters and hints of orange and rhubarb, shaken with egg white to give it an airy lather. We also enjoyed the Maisy Day, an egg-white-frothed gin concoction laced with Luzianne tea and lemon bitters—a highly nuanced version of an Arnold Palmer.
All that liquor needs some sturdy sop, and the food at Patterson House helps anchor the restaurant—with its eight types of filtered ice—in the realm of playfulness rather than letting it waft into the stratus of prissy contrivance. It's little surprise that the guys who brought you Paradise Park Trailer Resort on Lower Broad, with its tongue-in-cheek ode to Southern culture on the skids, would infuse the menu with earthy offerings such as pork sliders, mini meatloaf sandwiches and other hearty stomach-liners. Classic no-frills tater tots come with a side of horseradish-dill crème fraîche, and thickly battered deep-fried shrimp on skewers make for a refined spin on corn dogs, served with curry ketchup and mead mustard. Deep-fried veal sweetbreads come across as a rich, slightly unctuous alternative to chicken fingers, with sweet-and-sour dip.
For symmetry's sake, you might pair a bacon Old Fashioned with an Elvis—a panino of peanut butter, banana, parsley and lardons rescued from the Benton's bacon prep. Or pair an Elvis with a Golden Age—rum, lemon, egg yolk, Cherry Heering and lemon bitters—for a liquid twist on the standard bacon-and-eggs duo.
Fig and prosciutto with arugula on a housemade pizza crust was a beautiful bar snack with enough salty flavor and mustardy tang to stand up to the libations. And a plate of warm, cakey cinnamon doughnut holes struck just the right sweet-and-salty chord at the end of a boozy night.
Amazingly, we spent only $42—before tip—for a small but ample dinner for two with one exquisite cocktail each. With all cocktails $11 and snacks clocking in under $10, the math is refreshingly simple—and necessarily so, since chances are you'll be seeing double pretty fast.
At the core of The Patterson House's appeal is simplicity. Or perhaps more precisely, it's the appearance of simplicity: One look at the cast-bronze mechanism for making ice spheres, and you'll know there's nothing tossed-off about this business. Either way, the Goldbergs' venture succeeds by refining its menu and limiting its size so it can do one thing extremely well.
The Patterson House is not the first local venture to narrow its focus on one specialty, be it food or drink. In fact, there appears to be a shift away from the jack-of-all-trades strategies of Cheesecake Factories and California Pizza Kitchens toward restaurants showcasing niche foods, from barbecue, burgers and hot dogs to tacos, chocolates and snowballs. The trend represents a welcome flight to quality and creativity—one that could raise the standards for food and drink across town.
What an unexpected legacy for Malcolm R. Patterson. At first blush, a restaurant that reveres cocktails might chagrin its namesake, a former Tennessee governor who pledged to support the temperance movement but ultimately vetoed restrictions to sell alcohol in the state in 1909. But by elevating cocktails to the level of cuisine—putting Demon Rum on a pedestal—Patterson House encourages the slow sipping and appreciation of well-mixed drinks. That's an invitation to moderation that even a teetotaler should appreciate.
The Patterson House is open 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 615-844-9408.
You'd have to make an effort to understand the South outside of the Disney concept…
Just like modern country music and TV shows like Nashville, the beauty of everything truly…
This reminds me to ask... does Taco Mamacita still have that big painting of "Dirty…
Sounds like they need to take the caprese off the menu (doesn't belong anyway) and…
@pogo I hear ya, but data takes time to collect and analyze. That's all I'm…