I once dreamt I was on an island. And on that island was a bar with a magic tap that would dispense any beer I could think of: lagers, pilsners, pale ales, IPA’s, brown ales, amber ales, Abigails, porters, wheat beers, Japanese beers, beers that do your homework, beers that hold your hand while crossing icy streets, and stouts.
I woke up in New Haven. It was raining slash snowing outside, and I was on my way to Crown Street.
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When I arrived at The Cask Republic, I thought I started to dream again. But this time it was not rain but beer that soaked my clothes, and the dark wood walls of the restaurant were actually the walls of a giant beer cask. Although I may have been delusional, this was no dream — The Cask is filled with beer.
I counted 56 draught beers, 80 bottled beers and a some “cask conditioned” beer aged in Scottish whiskey barrels. The kegs are kept in a walk-in refrigerator walled in by glass in the lower dining level. Peering past the shelves of bottled beer, interested patrons can see the tap system, with tubes from each keg strung up the wall.
In contrast to their beer selection, the food menu didn’t have much to offer. Appetizers consisted of standard pub foods: mac & cheese, pizza, fried things. Clearly, the fried oyster sliders caught my attention. Trying out the different ends of the spectrum, I also ordered the macaroni. The noodles was baked, the cheese lightly crisped on top. The dish had a unique blend of cheeses giving it a tangy flavor, much different than the bland goop unique to Commons. The portion was pretty small, though, even for an appetizer. At $9, it’s hardly worth it unless you’re really craving specialty macaroni or they offer a happy hour deal. Which they do not.
The oyster sliders were pretty tasty. The plate came with three little sandwiches, each with a big hunk of oyster meat, battered and fried, dressed with garlic aioli and shredded lettuce. It even included a side of thinly cut fries.
All of this went well with my beer. My beer, a German brewed hefewiezen called “Hofbräu-Weisse.”
The rest of the menu consisted mostly of standard barfare as well: burgers, sandwiches, salads and one kind of soup. There were some interesting seafood options, all based on calamari and/or salmon. It was the barbecue short ribs that were staring me in the face, however, and I couldn’t back down.
A true test of a restaurant’s menu is an outlier. Sure, burgers, salmon and even salads can be butchered, but I trusted that this establishment could handle such staples. A bar that has short ribs, with no reputation as a barbecue destination, could either be hiding something special on its menu or just presenting a mediocre attempt at diversification.
Unfortunately, my ribs fit into the latter category.
As soon as they hit the table, I was skeptical. I wasn’t expecting the plate to be extraordinarily fancy, but the highly entropic arrangement of my plate caught be off guard. Two big pieces of rib meat were placed directly onto a flattened bed of mashed potatoes, all covered in a thick barbecue sauce. Now, I like ribs and potatoes, which is why I ordered the dish, but it took one poke of my fork and knife to sink the meat into the starchy mush. Pretty soon everything on my plate — including the random steamed vegetables that I didn’t even know I was going to get — were all blended together. It wasn’t a terrible flavor, sure, but I did not order a stew.
The texture of the meat was the most disappointing. It pulled apart like a short rib should, but due to its dryness. It was futile; not even the mashed potatoes could save the chewy, bland meat.
I shouldn’t be too frustrated; the beer selection at The Cask is unmatched in downtown New Haven — $5-8 range for most pints, with some of the bottled options being a litte pricier — and the service is stellar. But if you ever find yourself at The Cask Republic, take risks only in the beer department, and be wary of anything else.