“Gastropub” is word that gets bandied about regularly in culinary circles these days. Perhaps because of the loose definition it’s often given…
A gastropub can denote either a wing shack with craft beer or a den of haute cuisine who serves your Caesar salad on a wooden plank. Being a great tavern with even better food is a tough twofer to pull off. Very few do it right. Such a balance is the aim of Westies, a new gastropub opened just south of the revitalized Brewery District.
“A T.G.I. Fridays can literally be a gastropub,” joked Westies’ artist-turned-executive chef, Jeremy Cook. “To me though, it’s defined by being unique, with a chef who is passionate about the food and keeps things fresh, flexible, and constantly changing. That’s what I hope to do.”
Cook, who has honed his skills in reputable local kitchens including Tasi and Hubbard Grille, applies the “food is art” maxim to his scratch menu of tavern staples. A simple order of nachos may seem an easy task, but with Cook’s al pastor nachos, it’s a days-long process of soaking pork shoulder in achiote marinade, all before it’s heaped with fresh pico and a kick of ancho crème.
While Cook’s fare leans heavy on comfort food, his seasoned twist on wings, burgers, and pizza, eases diners into more unfamiliar items that are currently ’pub must-haves, like charcuterie plates and quinoa salads. His shepherd’s pie may originate from his mother’s recipe (when it was called “Anthony’s casserole” at Sunday dinners), but that foundation has evolved to include ground lamb, house-made mashed potatoes, and broiled Pecorino cheese. It’s a good sign when a menu’s vegetarian options – here a hefty portabella sandwich or a sweet-potato-and-pear pizza – rival the pork belly B.L.T.E. (the “e” is for fried egg).
“This is the first kitchen in which I’ve had total control of what I put out, so everything on here is me. It’s my responsibility,” Cook said of his mission at Westies. “I just tried to take normal bar food and bring it up to a higher level.”
Don’t call it “upscale.” It’s neither that, nor is it low-brow. Westies has the advantage of being the best of both worlds. You can have your sports bar and eat there, too. Impress a date and ogle scores simultaneously. Indulge in the cheesy, bacon manna of their pierogies or just sip on a craft cocktail.
Even before sitting down for a meal, it’s easy to spot how Westies defies the average gastropub. The interior is handsome and inviting. Everything from the expansive bar to the booths and tables have been handmade or repurposed by owner and first-time restaurateur Tony Selemi. Large cast iron supports, high ceilings and exposed brick from the location’s former life as a monument factory linger as part of the charm. Then there’s the seemingly endless line of televisions, set to broadcast every game imaginable come March Madness. Surprisingly though, they are unobtrusive to the dining experience. The TVs also boast interactive screens, should a server allow you to post new baby pictures or your favorite YouTube video of the day from your device. (As far as I know, that’s a gastropub first.) Should one want more of a tailgating atmosphere, there’s an all-season patio adjacent to the dining room built to accommodate a livelier crowd.
It’s likely the debate as to what makes a gastropub a gastropub will rage on, but for now, Westies should dispel any notion that you have to abandon the tenets of what started the craze in the first place in order to exceed your expectations.
Westies Gastropub is located at 940 S Front St. in the Brewery District. Go towww.westiesgastropub.com for menus and hours.