As if Branch Water Tavern weren't already waving the old-school Americana flag loud and proud, its replacement tenant -- Federal American Grill -- already seems determined to carry on that tradition, possibly with an even larger flag. Maybe with pretty gold fringe on the edges.
Chef and owner David Grossman announced last month that he'd be departing Branch Water Tavern and taking the concept with him, but not before transitioning the restaurant into something new.
That something new is Federal American Grill, which has the same vaguely colonial, early American tavern bent that's a trend in restaurant names from Houston (see: Liberty Kitchen, Frank's Americana Revival) to California (see: Township Kitchen Americana & Saloon in Los Angeles or Craftsman New American Tavern in San Diego) and elsewhere (see: Village Whiskey in Philadelphia or Longman & Eagle in Chicago).
These restaurants share other common attributes aside from just nomenclature, however. They usually feature menus with food that's called "fare," often of the "modern American" persuasion and typically with at least one burger and an assortment of updated comfort-food dishes. They also feature cocktails, craft beer and a substantial whiskey or bourbon selection. Because at some point in our mutual culinary history, bourbon became synonymous with old-old-school American dining.
Federal American Grill will offer all these things, although it will also -- smartly -- keep some of Branch Water's popular dishes (bone marrow is staying, as is the smoked pork chop). Owner Matt Brice isn't fresh out of the gate, after all. He's run the popular Bistro des Amis in Rice Village for years. He'll be making the Branch Water space more relaxed, too, by adding more tables and TVs in the somewhat stiff bar area.
The dishes that are coming on the new menu follow that trend: bacon-wrapped shrimp and grits, truffle-laced macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie. But Brice is determined to keep the service "old school," despite a more casual climate inside.
The press release for Federal American Grill promises that's not all, though. "Federal Grill will continue to offer an impressive array of artisan beer, boutique wines, American whiskeys and bourbons, and other spirits highlighting the restaurant's menu," it says as I grow wearier with each passing day reading the words "artisan" and "craft" and "boutique," although I'm often unsure of which other words to use or which other words could possibly replace them. Because it's not the words that I find tiresome but rather the frequency and imprecision with which they're used -- and I'm a chief offender myself.
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I'm not really complaining, though. I happen to like these types of cheeky Americana places for the most part, although I recognize that the novelty of paying a bit extra for fried chicken and raw oysters because they're served in a chic-rustic, catalog-perfect setting with my choice of local hooch will wear thin eventually. And when that time comes, we'll be full-tilt in the swing of some entirely new food movement.
Perhaps colonial Americana will be cast aside in favor of kitschy 1950s food, and we'll all be ordering Steak Diane and Cherries Jubilee with knowing smiles as chefs talk about re-creating their grandmothers' chicken à la king with heritage hens and hand-foraged mushrooms. We'll eat out of upcycled foil trays designed to mimic Swanson's frozen dinners, the compartments filled with artisanal Salisbury steak and fresh-picked peas. Oh, the giddy irony of it all.