I told you hubby and I are trying to catch up on the new places in town—so the other night before heading to a concert downtown, we decided to try Pioneer. This is the newest spot in Fountain Square located in the old Deano’s Vino. It’s right across from The End of the Line.
The first thing I noticed as I walked into the place on a chilly December night was it was warm in there! Hallelujah! A restaurant that is at a proper temperature that you don’t need a parka. Seriously, I always dress in layers in restaurants in this town. Seems like summer or winter, they’re always freezing. But this place was perfectly comfortable. Cozy even. The main dining room is actually pretty large though—and with a stage on one side is maybe less so—we were seated in the bar space, which I thought was done well. It feels more like the size of your average Fountain Square restaurant—it had nice tables and comfortable chairs and a rustic vibe with the bare brick walls. I liked it.
The menu is a little bit different—it has a lot more sharable small plates then it does regular-sized menu items. This is totally fine with me, because I like getting lots of things, but some people might feel differently. My only gripe about the set up was that it seemed like many of the small plates were cold items, which might be a bit strange if you’re making a full meal out of them, particularly in the winter.
We started with the spiced walnuts ($6), the chicken liver mousse ($12) and the butter lettuce salad ($12). We really enjoyed the chicken liver mouse and the salad—the salad was particularly good and different from most. I honestly rarely order salads out because they kind of bore me a lot of times, but this one sounded good on the menu and it was good. It was large leaves of butter lettuce properly tossed and fully dressed (but not too much) in blood orange and basil citronette. It was topped with fresh ricotta, shallots and fried crispy chicken skin. Why are more people not topping salads with crispy chicken skin? It was very well done—just exactly the right mix of stuff on the salad to give you an interesting flavor profile, but not just piling so much stuff on top that you can’t tell it’s even a salad any more.
The chicken liver mouse with schmaltz, pickled veggies and Amelia’s bread was also very tasty. I use that word tasty because it really did taste good—the look of the dish was not overly appetizing though. The mousse was kind of smeared on the plate in a heap. The bread was amazing –split and buttered and toasted and just exactly right. The mousse was rich a creamy without being gamey the way chicken liver things can sometimes be. It was very good, even if it wasn’t the prettiest thing.
The walnuts? Well, they were fine, but I wouldn’t be itching to get them again unless you have a really large group to share them with—they are extremely strongly seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper, and while I enjoyed a couple of them, I didn’t want to eat much more. Actually, all of these “small plates” would be better with at least four people sharing I think—they are pretty good-sized portions, and I would like to try a few more things than we were able to.
|steak tartare..so pretty|
For the next course, we ordered the steak tartare ($15) and the cavatelli pasta dish ($13). You know it’s easy to lure me in with a tartare, even though I am particular about it. This one though? It was one of the better ones I have had in recent memory, and it was truly beautifully presented. I was suspicious that they are using ribeye in their version, but was pleasantly surprised by the luxuriousness that the extra fat gave to the beef. It was plated so well too—in a line with perfectly bite-sized house made croutons placed throughout. And the whole plate was then artfully dotted with aioli and mustard and topped with fried capers and chives. It was done in such a way, that it was so easy to get a perfect bite each time (ok, I secretly wanted like one more crouton, but that’s just me). I was truly impressed with this dish. I felt like it had so much finesse—and more so than say the chicken liver, even though it tasted good as well. I would highly recommend this dish.
The pasta was good, although not as good as the other things in my mind. Hubby really enjoyed it though. It was cavatelli pasta (kind of looks like little shells that are tightly wound) with rapini, leeks, chili flakes and a white wine and butter sauce. It had a little kick from the chili flakes—not too much though. I do like the way much of the food had a little heat in it somewhere—even in the salad—I think it was the way the chicken skin was seasoned. The pasta dish was a nice dish to have with other things, but I just don’t think I would want a whole plate of it as my main dish—it is definitely a better dish served to share. Hubby managed to finish it all up though.
We were totally not going to get dessert, but I was lured in by the apple strudel—it was wrapped in phyllo after all. This makes something almost a guarantee I will get it. And I was very glad I did—it was really tasty. I liked it because it wasn’t overstuffed with apples, leaving the phyllo nice and crispy. It was topped with a caramel sauce and some cinnamon sugar topping and a buttermilk Chantilly cream. Really nicely done—not over the top on anything and cooked just right.
Overall we really enjoyed our experience at Pioneer. It was comfortable and our server was friendly. On the whole, the food was very good, even if some things were just okay. But I would be happy to go back and try some other things. And get that tartare again for sure. Let me know if you have been and if so, what you thought.
1110 Shelby Street