It’s been very quiet around here lately and the reason is that I was waiting for new places to open! Recently, a couple have done so. The Monk’s Cellar and Crawfish Factory have both opened within the last few weeks and had some time to get settled in. I’ll tackle Crawfish Factory next week.
Monk’s Cellar is a brewery and public house located on Vernon Street next door to Sammy’s Island Bar & Grill. If you have been to any of the downtown events over the summer you may have noticed them giving sneak peaks into the space as it was taking shape, or even sampling their beer at the recent Wednesdays On Tap events. They’ve definitely been putting their name out there for a while and it shows. I met my brother and his wife for dinner on Tuesday and the place was quite busy.
We arrived at 6PM and through the iconic wooden door (a similar door serves as their logo) we squeezed into a crowded entryway. Two groups were before us and soon a 3rd arrived behind us. The first was seated right away and the 2nd was told it would be about 15-20 minutes for a table, so I was ready to be told the same. Instead we were offered a hightop table that seated 6 (my brother and his wife also had their infant in his car seat). I guess the previous group wanted a normal table. We went ahead and took that and spread out with room to spare.
I always forget how far back the spaces on this side of the street go back. Inside it is a long and narrow with most of the normal tables in the back. Up front they have the bar and a mix of different small tables plus a counter/island that faces the main brewery room. Another brewing room is just past the bar where they have open fermentation tanks, although they weren’t using them at the time. As far as I’m aware, all the beer on the menu is brewed here, in house. Our high-top table and one other was directly across from the open-tank room. Past that is mostly normal seating, along with a kind of loungy looking corner with a couch and armchairs. This was filled for all but the moment in-between groups where I managed to snap a photo of it.
We had a little drink menu that was left with us and quickly our server introduced herself, then went off to get us water, a second drink menu and a regular menu as well. Soon we ordered our beers. There was a Bier Blanche (Belgian style white. Light, citrus, fresh), an Abbey Ale (Belgian style dubbel. Brown, raisin, full) and a London Porter (English style brown porter. Dark, chocolate, balanced). All were $5. I’m guessing the “$3” on the menu refers to happy hour price, which had just ended when we arrived at 6, according to a sign outside. All three were good. The Abbey Ale was very flavorful without being overwhelming or having any one particularly potent note. The Bier Blanche was nice and light with a very clear citrus aroma and flavor. The London Porter was mine and tasty to the last sip. It had a bit of a chocolate scent to it but I didn’t feel that carried through to the taste. It was actually much less sweet than I would have guessed by the smell. Very drinkable, especially with my fish and chips.
The food here seems like slightly upscale typical pub food. I say that because I can’t say I’ve ever seen mussels or marinated olives in one before, at least not anywhere around here. All the fries on the menu are duck fat fries, which I’ve usually only seen in gastropubs or food trucks.
We ordered the olives to start. These came out in just over 5 minutes. These were Crystal’s idea, I personally don’t care for olives like this. I stick to plain old black olives. These were very, very strong in flavor. I had one each of the 4 types I saw in the jar and then decided I was done. Branden & Crystal almost finished the rest and said they enjoyed them.
Our dinners came out less than 10 minutes after the olives, which was pretty quick from order time, less than 15 min total. I had the Fish & Chips (ale battered, light & crispy, with duck fat fries and house-made tartar sauce)[$9]. Crystal ordered the Moules Frites appetizer (mussels & duck fat fires)[$10-half pound] and Branden got the Brewmaster Burger (spent grain, white bean & lentil burger, arugula, pickled onion, Gruyere, Russian dressing & garlic aioli, served with duck fat fries or salad)[$10].
Crystal enjoyed the mussels. I didn’t even think to try one myself, I don’t think I’ve ever had one. Her fries came with the same garlic aioli that came with Branden’s burger. My fries didn’t so I shared hers. Branden had actually ordered the salad with his burger but they mistakenly gave him fries. He had wanted to try some of mine anyway so he just kept and ate those instead. He said the burger, while obviously a big grainy, was pretty good closer to the center where he got a little bit of all the toppings in each bite. Around the edges where it was more patty and bread was perhaps a little more boring, but he said that’s pretty normal for a veggie burger anywhere.
My fish was OK. It was obviously right out of the frier because it was insanely hot and I had to pull it into a few pieces and let it cool off while I worked on some fries. These duck fat fries are unlike any I’ve had before. First off, they didn’t have the telltale aroma of duck, and were considerably less greasy than I expected (they’re still a little greasy like most fries, just not to the extreme levels of the duck fat fries I’ve had before). The color was also very unique. They were quite dark although not burnt or overcooked as far as I could tell, and the fact that all of ours looked the same seemed to indicate that this is how they make them here. Flavor-wise they were fine, I honestly didn’t taste much if any duck flavor. They were pretty good with the garlic aioli, and just fine by themselves. The fish itself was also just OK. It was as greasy as it was hot. My cloth napkin was soaked with grease by the end of the meal. Texture-wise it was perfect, very thin, crispy batter and buttery-smooth, melt-in-your mouth fish, but there wasn’t much flavor beyond the somewhat bland batter. Honestly it was the house-made tartar sauce that stole the spotlight. I don’t even really like tartar sauce that much, but when a restaurant makes their own it’s usually pretty good. This was no exception. It was thick and very flavorful.
The service was excellent. Our server came by at just the right moments when we needed something, like when we were ready to order or when we were ready for a 2nd round of beer. Staff was constantly in motion, including the owners (not entirely sure if I recognized them both, but I definitely saw one of them there). The noise level was pretty high, lots of hard surfaces for sound to bounce around on. Overall I thought the food was fine. The beer is the star here and it’s great that it’s from a local brewery right here on Vernon with a very nice place in which to sit and enjoy it. I’m sure I’ll be back to try something else on the menu soon.