day thirty-eight: bandwagon brew pub
July 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
The Bandwagon Brew Pub is more of a Bandwagon Brew Cave. Stepping down into the lower level of 114 N. Cayuga, one can almost feel the cool earthiness of the beer that’s brewed on the premises. The walls are hewn from a rustic stone and the bar area has a hidden grotto of sorts behind it. In my robust fantasy world, hipster gnomes–the ones too cool to wear those lame pointy hats, the ones who trim, dye or otherwise style their gnome beards–work behind the walls of the grotto, where they diligently, happily, and drunkenly brew the Bandwagon beer.
My robust fantasy world does not, of course, give enough credit to the tremendous amount of work it takes to make the 20 or so different microbrews that Bandwagon brews, 5 or so of which are on tap at any given point in time. This, in itself, is ambitious. In addition, Bandwagon has an eclectic sampling of other upstate New York and American craft beers, a full bar, and a diverse menu as well. For those of you who, like me when I first moved to Ithaca, think that 10pm is a totally reasonable time to sit down for dinner, no longer need you settle only for late-night pizza and Collegetown takeout: Bandwagon offers a decent selection of their menu items through last call.
I had jumped on the Bandwagon a few times when they first opened and, while my meals were solid and fresh, they had been nothing tremendously special. Judging from this last trip though, wow, Bandwagon has done some serious ramping up of its operations. I was having trouble deciding between the dinner entrees, which ranged from the elegant-sounding grilled chermoula wild sockeye salmon to two funky farfalle, one with a mix of citrus fruits, onion, and habanero, the other with zucchini, tomato, sweet bell peppers, and sorrel in white wine sauce. I felt that from the diverse menu, one choice was hardly enough, and so instead decided to mix it up with two orders from the “sides & snacks” section instead.
The “sides & snacks” section was equally appealing and featured higher-end versions of all kinds of bar food. The egg rolls came with BBQ pork and smoked gouda; the cheesesticks were made with Pepper Jack rather than the standard mozzarella; the hand-cut fries served with malt vinegar aioli and curry mayonnaise. I ordered Bandwagon’s twist on potato skins–potato and cheddar wontons with chive sour cream–and the one vegan starter, spicy coconut thai curry with potato, broccoli, carrot, shitake, cremini mushrooms and jasmine rice. (Full disclosure: They had, for $3 more, the option to add chicken to the dish. I couldn’t resist.)
While trying to decide on menu items/catching up at great length with my friend, I sampled a few of the Bandwagon brews. My first choice, Bandwagon’s Heavyweight Rye Double IPA, was not a good one. The rye hit strong at first, then slowly faded into a nagging aftertaste of dried blood. The persistent taste of iron made finishing the pint feel like some sort of vampire initiation ritual. To offset this initial choice, I switched, on my second round, to the Southern Tier Hop Sun, which I enjoyed immensely, then back to another of the Bandwagon brews, the I Town Brown, to give the in-house brews another shot. The I Town Brown was solidly drinkable, a pretty standard brown ale. I finished the night with one of my perennial favorites, the Lagunitas Pale Ale from California. Were it that you wanted to try an equally diverse selection of beers without staying at Bandwagon for hours and hours on end, you could go for one of the featured beer flights for a mere $8. That said, if you are like me and have good company, pints do the job just fine, too.
I was shocked at the size of the appetizers when they arrived. (Also thankful, considering the amount of beer I had consumed.) Together, they would certainly be more than enough for a meal. The wontons looked amazing: A perfect golden color, no sign of burning or chewiness whatsoever. I bit in and found that they were the perfect temperature inside as well, hot enough to be enjoyed, but not scalding. They tasted like fried pierogies with a thicker, crunchier, ever-so-slightly sweeter wrapper. I heartily dipped them into the sour cream chive dip which I completely enjoyed, despite even my long-standed and well-known dislike of plain sour cream. This dip was thick and had just the right amount of tang. My only note is that it could have used a pinch more salt to really bring out the flavors. Likewise, a bit more seasoning (garlic? onions? spice? something?) in the wontons and they would be sheer perfection.
After finishing the wontons, I took to the coconut curry which was sized not so much as a side or snack as a full entree. The consistency of this dish was absolutely perfect: The rice had a risotto-like creaminess to it without being overcooked. The dish had a rounded heat throughout it and just a hint of sweetness. It tasted like a Thai curry/American fusion in all of the best of ways. I gave a chicken-less bite to my vegetarian friend, an equally (if not more) candid reviewer of food, and she seconded my thumbs up opinion.
It’s not only the beer and food at Bandwagon that gives the place its local flavor. As I’ve generally found to be the case here, the service was regular and friendly, if sometimes bordering on the over-eager. We never once felt ignored nor needed for anything and, with our check, our waitress gave us a card for her Etsy shop, where she sells hand-painted shoes. Like the Ithaca aesthetic spectrum, which ranges from shabby hippie to stodgy professor, Bandwagon balances the DIY with the learned for many interesting and some wonderful results.
Price: Upscale pub price ($12-$20)
Hours: 5pm – 1am, 7 days a week,
Location: 114 N. Cayuga Street
Website: Bandwagon Brew Pub