Foie gras, duck confit, lamb lollipops and lobster bisque truly make the world go 'round...but occasionally I'm simply in the mood for some decent pub grub that doesn't require a commute. Since the housing market pretty much has UD and me shackled to our East Hillsborough County abode for the next millenium, that can pose a challenge for those of us who would rather bite hard on a cyanide capsule than suffer Chili's, Applebee's or any other chain restaurant of their ilk (as we are unfortunately awash in a veritable sea of them in this neck of the woods).
I'd been to The Rack in South Tampa (and liked it), but had never tried the Brandon outpost until today. It was pretty quiet when we went in for "lupper" at around 3:00 PM. I liked the vibe, though. It's a cavernous venue with decidedly diverse sections designed to appeal to different patrons. There's an outdoor patio under giant oaks for al fresco dining (albeit with a parking lot view), a huge wraparound bar just inside the door for the drinkers, a cozy side dining room with sushi bar just off the bar (yes...in true East meets West fashion, you can enjoy freshly rolled sushi while your dining partner snorts chicken wings and nachos here at The Rack) and a back room with half a dozen billiards tables. With flat screens throughout and piped-in music dialed down to a civilized level, I found the ambiance to be oddly and eclectically pleasing. It seems there's something for everyone here.
We got attentive, friendly service from Jenna, who was very sweet and cheerfully responded to our many questions. We decided to start with a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay for me and a Mich Ultra for UD. After perusing the fairly extensive menu, we settled on "The Deuce" for our starter (a mix of crab rangoon, corndog bites, chicken tenders and fusion rolls served with sweet Thai chili, honey mustard and jalapeno-tomato sauces). Everything was hot, fresh and delish. I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I like corndogs (even the scary carnival variety) and I really loved the house-made, hand-battered hot dog chunks enrobed in their crispy-fried cornbread coating. The chicken tenders really WERE tender, very lightly breaded and fried to perfection. Crab rangoon and southwest fusion rolls were also well above average. We left nothing on the plate.
Underdog opted for the Torched Hamachi Roll (spicy chopped shrimp and crab mixture with cucumber, jalapeno and bell pepper roll topped with hamachi, scallions and masago, drizzled with eel sauce)...which, as a non-sushi lover, kind of made my head reel. Sushi is one of those things that everyone else seems to love, but I've been unable to acquire a taste for. You can tie that shiznet up in all the little seaweed ribbons and bows you want to, but I'm not fooled. It's still the flotsam and jetsam of the sea (not that there's anything wrong with it that some tempura batter and FryDaddy full of hot oil couldn't fix). Still, I got a piece of it down (which is saying a lot) and it wasn't half bad. My better half seemed really pleased with it and cleaned his plate in short order.
I ordered the South Beach (which I have enjoyed previously at the South Tampa location). A tasty, not-too-mayonnaisey white meat chicken salad (with walnuts, which is always a plus) was served wrapped in grilled pita bread with butter lettuce and avocado (I nixed the tomatoes), and topped with crispy bacon and melted provolone. I'm not ordinarily a big sandwich lover, but this was excellent. Fries were perfect as well...both hot and super-crispy.
I thought this was a fine experience for $64 (which included two Kendall Jackson Chardonnays for me and two Mich Ultras for the spousal unit). Menu offerings deliver for the price point...especially considering the fact that they are (for all practical purposes) "bar food". Not a bad casual choice in Brandon.