BAY VIEW BITES — Palomino slims down
August 1, 2013
Palomino Bar, 2491 S. Superior St., reopened in June after some interior and exterior remodeling and with a modified á la carte menu (you pay for sides). Leslie Montemurro and Scott Johnson of MojoFuco Restaurant Group brought in their Comet and Honeypie partners, Valerie and Adam Lucks, to reconfigure the restaurant and menu.
The renovation dispensed with the clutter while retaining Palomino’s most handsome features: the well-placed chrome at the bar, the ’50s–style overhead light platform, and the vibrantly green wall murals. The new tables in the back section of the restaurant are reminiscent of north woods breakfast joints, as are the thick cloth napkins. The menu is pared down, has fewer deep-fried offerings, and is pricier.
Leaning heavily on “new wave of new wave” groups like Bloc Party, the background music didn’t jive well with the down-home surroundings, but it lent a nocturnal elegance and kept the employees in a peppy mood. The crowd consisted mainly of hip 20-somethings. My server was attentive, anticipated any needs I had, and was considerate enough to ask if it was my first time back since the reopening.
The new cocktail menu didn’t reinvent the mixology wheel, but offers subtle twists on American standards. The Old 77 ($8) has a summery citrus bite without sacrificing the earthy taste of its rye base. The Lux Old Fashioned ($8) has a perfect balance of strong and sugary, and the first sip exploded with orange and dark cherry flavors thanks to a very thorough muddle at the bottom. The beer menu includes offbeat choices from O’So, Dark Horse, and Pearl Street breweries, as well as more well-known selections from Lakefront and Furthermore.
My corn bread starter plate ($4) arrived promptly, as did my entrée and sides. The skillet plate was a nice touch and put me in the mood for down-home cooking. Each muffin had crunchy edges and a fluffy texture, though they were too crumbly to withstand the chunky apricot jam, which could have been more generously portioned.
The Smoked Pork Shoulder ($12) seemed small for its price, but in this case, appearance deceived. It was dry or tough in some sections but also yielded savory juices. There was a bit too much of the fantastically-sour Carolina-style mustard sauce, but the accompanying biscuit was just right for soaking up its excess.
The Pimento Mac and Cheese ($4-$7) follows MojoFuco’s de rigeur pairing of a mild cheese sauce that binds the pasta with a sharp cheese baked on top. It included chopped red peppers, an inspired move, though it seemed little more than a garnish. Adding more would help differentiate this offering from the nearly identical versions at Comet and Honeypie.
The heavily fried, golf-ball-sized Tots ($4-$6) were a throwback to the old Palomino. With dark, finely julienned hash inside, they possessed more of a soul food vibe than the other fare. The tangy ranch dip was a nice balance.
I had intended to finish with a Southern-style Cream Pie ($6), but there was simply no room. If you plan to include a dessert, I’d suggest skipping the appetizer. Other intriguing options I wish I’d been able to sample included Biscuits and Sawmill Gravy ($7), Grilled Shrimp and Organic Grits in Tomato Gravy ($12), Cast Iron Fried Chicken ($12), and the Smoked Duck Sandwich ($9).
The new Palomino might still have a few kinks to work out, and its pricier menu will certainly cause a number of the old restaurant’s fans to abandon it. But it has retained a sense of Southern authenticity, even if it has moved from authentic deep-fried to authentic home-baked. It remains, in its new guise, a unique, love-it-or-hate-it complement to other options in Bay View.
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