Opening a restaurant that focuses heavily on food and drink popular a few decades ago seems like a risky proposition, but that’s exactly what Crooners and Cocktails did last year. The Exchange St. location doesn’t just serve the old-timey stuff either, its decor and ambiance fit the bill too. Everything from the ceiling and chandeliers, to the music and beyond drum up thoughs of an era that has long since passed. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the idea of an old style restaurant offering items like Clams Casino and Chicken Cacciatore, but like everything else, I knew I had to give it a try before judging.
We were meeting friends, but arrived first and got our table right away. Two seats were against the wall and the other two were at the table ends. I sat down and immediately felt like a puppet. The seat was really low and it felt the majority of me was under the table while my head and neck were above. It wasn’t a great start, but getting the food and drink menu at the same time our friends arrived made me forget about it. As they too experienced the seat unusually close to the floor, we started to scan for beverages and discuss what might be in store for the evening. We were also warned that they were out of a couple menu items, including the Lobster Bisque, which my wife had considered ordering.
While I was looking for a cocktail to fill the emptiness inside of me, I realized that the combo food and drink menu was quite convenient. I didn’t need to switch menus to see everything they had to offer, I just flipped back and forth between pages. It was a minor detail, but one I wouldn’t mind seeing at other restaurants. Once that little bit of joy flew by, I realized I was having trouble deciding between a classic concoction, a manly drink, a fruity escapade, or some combination thereof. I found myself leaning toward a classic since it fit the theme, but I was also fascinated by their “named” drinks – the Frank Sinatra was Jack, rocks, splash water; Dean Martin included Stoli, Fino Sherry rinse, flamed orange; Sammy Davis Jr. was Jack and glass bottle Coke. Get it?
Sticking with an oldie but goodie, I eventually decided on a Rob Roy – Dewar’s, sweet vermouth, bitters. My wife went with a Twist and Shout – Stoli Ohranj, St. Germain, lemon, prossecco. Our counterparts ordered a Manhattan – same as my Rob Roy but with Woodford Reserve instead of Dewars – and a Dean Martin. Once the drink orders were in, we started the back-and-forth about what we wanted to eat. There was a lot that looked good to me as I searched for an app and an entree to satiate my hunger and continue my decadent American ways. After a little discussion, it seemed like we were ready to put in our food.
Once our drinks arrived, we placed our orders. It was easy – two each of Daily Chef’s Selection of Deviled Eggs; Spring Vegetable Risotto with a sweet pea basil puree, asparagus, arugula and cherry tomatoes finished with lemon and parmesan; and House Made Meatloaf en croute with a classic mushroom duxelle, roasted truffle cheddar mashed potatoes and sweet onion bourbon gravy served with charred bacon balsamic Brussels spouts. Each couple would have one of each item. Our server was thrilled with the simplicity.
While the waitress walked away, we started to tip our glasses up to our mouths. My Rob Roy was perfectly executed – a little on the sweet side with plenty of scotch machismo mixed in. I took a second sip and caught a glimpse of Young Frankenstein playing on the TV at the bar. My wife sipped her luscious liquid and seemed quite pleased with it, so I tried it too. It was indeed excellent. The fruity, flowery flavors were made whole with the lemon creating a base. It was a little bit tropical and a lot bit tasty. Everyone seemed pleased with their initial gulps as we continued drinking and chatted about all things Rat Pack.
Before long, we had four half-eggs in front of us. They were pleasing to the eyes. The charred bacon Brussels sprout cackleberry was topped with bit of pig, fig balsamic, and a few sprouty greens for garnish. I took one into my deviled egg hole and chomped on it like a man possessed…by a devil…ed egg. To be fair, I love most any iteration of the stuffed spawn, but these were quite good even though I found them a bit unusual. There was definitely a serious Brussels bite to the yolk which was followed some bacon business and the balsamic blast. It was a little pungent, a tad smokey, and had an acidic finality. I ate them faster than I should have considering Mrs. Portlandeater wasn’t having any, and finished them before the couple across from me sharing a single order.
While everyone was eying me and my egg gluttony, we waited for our loaf and risotto. Soon it came out. The meatloaf was a double slice with the mashed to the right and the sprouts to the right of those. The risotto was filled with greenery and definitely looked very seasonal. I stared down my meatloaf and when it blinked, I knew it was time to dive in. The slices were wrapped in puffed pastry – that’s the “en croute” – which makes everything better, and topped with the duxelle. With my first foray into it, I found the dish to be ravishing. The duxelle was absolutely outstanding and added a multifaceted mushroom sauce to the mix. The pastry was a perfect crusty addition and the meatloaf had plenty of non-meat parts to make it slightly fluffy and flavor-filled. Every part of it worked well together as both texture and flavor combined to make sweet love to my mouth.
Moving on to my sides, I went in for the mashed and found the soft, creamy potatoes to be delicious – not overly burdened by truffle cheddar, but simply and appropriately doused with it to transform what otherwise would have been a very basic preparation. The Brussels – same as in the eggs – were practically divine with their gravy of which I found the sweet onion played up the natural flavor of the green near-spheres while the bourbon added a bit of “how’s your father?” to the sassy side dish. A bite of my better half’s risotto revealed a masterful spring spread with awesome fresh basil and a blend of creamy greenery.
As forks were frantically hitting mouths and the waitress checked on us, a couple more drinks were ordered – she with another Twist and Shout and our partners in dining with an All Shook Up – Plymouth Gin, lemon, ginger syrup, soda, egg white. We continued the eating and drinking party, chatting about our lives, and stuffing our bellies. Eventually, we even moved on to a dessert menu to consider the sweet life. Unfortunately, the one item which was given some thought was the one they were out of. We ultimately decided to pass.
At the end of meal time, we were ready to move on to other pursuits, but first, we had to pay for the pleasures which we had consumed. Our meal came to 117 bones with tax and tip. The meal was a little pricey, but much better than I expected. The signature cocktails were actually quite reasonable at 10 each, so I suppose the combination of the two was about where they should have been. Crooners and Cocktails is doing it right. Their theme, which caused me some concern initially, was well-played and they nailed all its important parts. I’m definitely going back and trying some more of their classics. You want old school? They’ve got it. Head there soon and get ready to channel your inner Sinatra.
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