Liberty Public House
by Anne Jones
Never let it be said that I take my food review assignments lightly. I do my homework. So when it was decided that Liberty Public House would be my next subject, I had to visit 3 times in 3 days. Two lunches, one dinner – just to be thorough.
I had high hopes from the beginning. Liberty is run by the same trio that has The Mill on MacArthur: Amy Foxworthy, Josh Carlton and Chip Zimmerman. In fact, The Mill helped make MacArthur Avenue into the busy and charming gem of Bellevue that it is today, when it joined long-time anchors Dot’s, Zorba’s and Stir Crazy several years ago. MacArthur Avenue is turning into a regular little mini-Carytown, or maybe a two-block piece of it. I have always loved the fare at the Mill: healthy comfort food is how I would describe it, fresh, locally-sourced, and just the right amount of innovative. The only problem with the Mill is, like Yogi Berra said, it’s so crowded that nobody goes there anymore. On a busy night, the quarters can be a little close.
So I was happy to see the interior of Liberty. On 25th Street a couple of blocks north of Broad, it’s in the old East End Theatre building, still with the marquee and all. Inside there’s a roomy, urban-industrial feel, with lots of open space, easy and comfortable. I was also hoping the fare would be similar to that of the Mill, and I was not disappointed. It’s not identical, but it does have the same feel. Just like the space, the Liberty menu seems bigger and more varied, and pretty much perfectly covers any taste craving you might seek to fill.
Dipping sauces! They jump off the menu at you first thing. Sold. I hardly know what they are, but I want them. Smoked gouda cheese, smoky whole grain mustard, country gravy, ranch – just a few of the choices for a dollar! We tried the smoked gouda dipping sauce with the sweet corn fritters starter ($8) and they were scrumptiously fried, both tangy and sweet, good consistency.
On to the lunch entrees, both under the “Bowls” section. Day one: vegetarian chili and grits ($10) hit the spot – made with sweet potatoes and tomatoes, smothered with melty cheddar cheese, a few spring onions and crème fraiche, it would have been only close to perfection had it not been served with the best cornbread I’ve ever tasted. That pushed it over the top. This was sturdy triangular cornbread, grilled in a skillet and a study in contrasts: moist and crumbly, buttery and light, downright sweet but savory. C’s scrumptiously hearty beef stew was also enhanced with the side of warm artisan bread. Day two: hearty beef stew for my mother (based on C’s stellar recommendation) and spinach Caesar salad for me. Not overly adventurous, but spinach in a Caesar salad was a welcome variation for me. Again, fresh, top-grade ingredients – baby spinach, red onions, tomatoes, croutons and shaved parmesan with truly delectable dressing.
A quick 5 hours later and my carnivorous friend and I were back for a late dinner. M plunged into the full rack of slow-cooked, baby-back ribs smothered in bourbon bbq sauce ($20) and heartily approved, taking half of them home for the next day. My shrimp and grits were sautéed with bacon, garlic, mushrooms and onions, lazing on a bed of creamy Byrd Mill yellow corn grits. Even though I’m a pseudo-semi-faux vegetarian, I opted not to substitute veggie sausage for the bacon, refraining from consuming the bacon pieces but savoring that flavor anyhow. True to form, the tastes were exquisite.
Added personal bonus: Arnold Palmers on the menu as a specialty, a pleasing blend of fresh-brewed tea and lemonade. Craft brews, craft cocktails, and a smart selection of wines are also offered; so are root beer floats with Bev’s ice-cream.
Amy, Josh and Chip have done it again. The Liberty Public House (named in honor of nearby St John’s Church and Patrick Henry’s speech) should get so popular that nobody goes there anymore.
418A North 25th Street; 804-225-8275 Mon-Friday 11-11; weekends 9 am – 11 pm