Last week, almost exactly one long year since my last venture inside a restaurant, I decided it was time to go back in. Masked up and fully vaccinated, we pulled open the front door of Monnik Beer Co., chose a table, sat down and you know what? It felt great!
I felt ready. You may not. Let me emphasize at the top of this review that everyone must make their own decision about when indoor restaurant dining feels safe for you. COVID-19 is still a dangerous disease, particularly for your older friends, relatives and neighbors. Be careful out there.
But the good news is that vaccines are rolling out at last. More and more of my friends have received the jab, or two. The metro’s COVID-19 positivity rate is declining, and we’re not a red zone anymore. I hope spring break and the mobs that hit local bars for St. Patrick’s Day last week won’t change that.
Feeling comfortable with that second Pfizer dose established in our systems, Mary and I did our due diligence and identified several local eateries that seem to be doing a good job of keeping diners safe. Monnik clearly passed that test, with its carefully masked staff and tables that appear to be even more distanced than the rules require.
I had a great time and didn’t worry at all. Mary worried just a little. And we had a delicious lunch that reopened my eyes to what we’re missing when we do takeout: Crisp, sizzling fries; frothy, fresh craft beer; dishes that come to the table warm; beef and lamb still juicy and pink at the center the way they should be.
I’ll continue to do takeout mostly until the nation hits herd immunity, but now that I’ve broken the spell, I’ll be less wary about dining in when the opportunity beckons, and much less fearful of well-distanced patio dining.
Monnik was a great place to start. Its portfolio of a dozen-plus craft brews is impressive, and its eclectic bill of fare offers elevated, appetizing dishes that go far beyond everyday pub grub.
Only a hectic work day limited me to a single tasting sample of its popular Hauck’s American Pilsner, a crisp, golden, flavorful lager in the old style.
The menu offers about 15 appetizers, subdivided into bar snacks, mids and house-cut fries. They range in price from $7 (for beer cheese or pub pretzel apps or Belgian-style war fries) to $15 (for a locally-sourced charcuterie plate). There are ten mains, including dinner salads and burgers. Meats and produce are sources from local and regional farms.
Lamb toast ($12) was an appetizer and as filling as a light meal. A pile of shredded Freedom Run Kentucky lamb was perched atop a thick slice of lightly grilled Blue Dog levain bread. The braised lamb was mild and sweet, infused with the flavors of long cooked veggies. It was decorated with orange dabs of carrot puree, and topped liberally with paper-thin, crisp slices of heirloom breakfast radish.
The lamb was pink at the center, as ordered — a feat that’s been difficult to accomplish with takeouts. The experience tempted us to add another meat item, a single, local, grass-fed, unadorned beef patty ($6.50). It was prepared as a smash burger, pounded thin and crispy crunchy on the outside, but it was still pink inside, too, with delicious juices running out.
A vegetarian option, jackfruit jjigae ($15) is a Korean specialty that I can most clearly describe as a comforting kimchi stew with bits of jackfruit, a standard substitute for beef. It came in a large bowl filled with a bright red soup, fiery and sour with gochujang Korean spice. It was loaded with a gallery of goodies: nappa cabbage-based kimchi, chunks of carrot and potato, thin chewy rice-cake rounds and meaty bits of jackfruit.
I ordered a side of war fries ($7), forgetting that this Monnik specialty is a meal in itself, best enjoyed with plenty of beer. A large pile of excellent fries, right out of the fryer, were long and thin-cut, crisp and delicious. The Belgian-style condiments — peanut sauce, mayo and chopped white onion — came in a tub on the side. I mixed it all into the fries to make a gooey, delicious poutine-style treat.
A side of Brussels sprouts and bacon was generously portioned for the $1 price. Even this side dish showed the chef’s skill. Brussels sprouts were cut in half, slathered in oil and roasted until the outer leaves were crisply charred like potato chips. They were soft and sweet on the outside, firm within, with bits of bacon and a smoky flavor note.
We couldn’t resist a single, very large onion ring for $1, thickly battered and fried crisp, hot and good. Dining-in still has its allure, and this is what it’s about.
A delightful meal for two totaled $49.17, plus a $10 tip.
Monnik Beer Co.
1036 E. Burnett Ave.
Another location: 415 Bank St.,
New Albany, Ind., (812) 913-4259