Days Like These

I eat out a lot; it’s one of those blessing/curse things that come with a sideline as a food writer. It’s a blessing because I get to try new restaurants and meet interesting people and it’s a curse because sometimes those restaurants aren’t any good and the people only think they’re interesting.

The upside of the equation, obviously, far outweighs the negatives. I very rarely have a bad meal while I’m out doing research. I go to places that interest me; I’ve never had editorial pressure to talk about a certain restaurant or chef, and I have never had anyone suggest covering a place based on advertising or marketing.

I do, however, get marketing and PR emails all the time. 50% of them are relevant to me if not entirely useful; the remaining 50% announce restaurants opening in New York, Los Angeles or Detroit (for some reason I get a lot of emails about restaurants opening in Detroit); are about very odd cookbooks; or advertise products that do not appear to serve a useful purpose.

The relevant and sometimes useful press releases involve local restaurants, and tend to come from people whose names I recognize. I have actually met a lot of these folks or at least corresponded with them, and I very much appreciate what they do. They tend to make my life easier, because they provide me with information that I, in turn provide to you.

All of which was to explain that some marketing/PR emails interest me more than others, so when I got the news that Gordon Biersch Brewery had a bunch of new menu items, I was not all that excited.

I had been to Gordon Biersch a few times in the past, and my impression was that the beer was very good and the food was on par with mid-range chain restaurants based in Florida. I went this week, because I needed someplace not far from my office, and I remembered getting the email about new menu items.

I don’t really write about places I had bad meals, so I assume you know where this is going? It was much improved from the meals I’d had there before, and while I’m not planning my next birthday dinner there, I enjoyed pretty much everything I tasted.

I can’t say my memory is good enough that I can definitively tell you what’s new about the current offerings at GB (which is how I’ll refer to it going forward, since I don’t really feel like spelling it out over and over). I think that there are a lot more “small plates” and appetizers than the last time I was there, and I know the sliders (which you can order individually or in “for the table” portions) are new.

I tried two of the sliders – the beer-braised bratwurst with grain mustard and sautéed onions on a pretzel roll and the grass-fed beef with tomato, mayonnaise and arugula. Sausage is a must at a brewpub, and this bratwurst was probably the item I’ll most likely order again when I go back to GB. Between the coarsely-ground sausage and the chewy pretzel-dough (which, incidentally, was delicious but not big enough to actually eat the thing as a sandwich) I was well-pleased.

The grass-fed beef patty was also good, and though I know arugula is ubiquitous these days I actually liked it on the burger in place of lettuce. The little piece of brie they’re using for cheese should be replaced with Cheddar, but I’m sure there’s market research to contradict my position. (“Brie is VERY big with the 29-34 demo…”)

The seared tuna small plate, which comes with a crisp slaw-like salad of julienned carrot, cucumber and green onion with barely blanched green beans cut on a bias, was good, though I didn’t need the triangles of crisp flatbread or quite as much “Cajun” spice on the outside of the fish.

My server recommended the spicy chicken risotto balls over the version with crab. I don’t know if I’d have shared his opinion about the chicken balls being superior to the crab, but I did appreciate that he steered me towards a dish that cost $3 less, and I did also like the dish he recommended.

I am a sucker for fried things, and there is very little in the frying repertoire than arancini. When done right, there’s a crisp exterior that gives way to a melting interior, and the things were done right when I had lunch at GB this week. Though not as spicy as billed (or as spicy as the tuna, for that matter) there was at least some heat from chiles on the plate. What impressed me the most, again, was that someone with a truly deft hand for the fryer was in the back on a Wednesday during lunch service turning out arancini about as good as any I’ve had in New Orleans.

I don’t want to oversell the place, or give you the wrong impression; GB is still a brewpub, and it’s not going to compete with its fine-dining neighbors any time soon. But for what it is – a place that’s always had good beer and mediocre food – the new(ish) menu is a decidedly positive move, and one that will likely have me going back in the next few months. 



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