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PACKING A PUNCH: Dram + Morsel knocks out all expectations

Wow.

CLASS ACT: Between the ‘Lil Macs’ slider, ‘Floured Flower’ and more, Dram + Morsel offers more than classy décor and cocktails. Photo by Tom Dorgan.

CLASS ACT: Between the ‘Lil Macs’ slider, ‘Floured Flower’ and more, Dram + Morsel offers more than classy décor and cocktails. Photo by Tom Dorgan.

Not to dumb down all the fancy foodie-isms I could throw right now, but, wow! Just … wow. From the first frothy bourbon-laced sip to the last lip-smacking-bite of all-spiced-infused chicken, “wow” was all I could manage to come up with after eating at downtown’s newest hot spot, Dram + Morsel.

Truth be told, I’m not frequently overwhelmed by new dining experiences in this area. I’m not finicky or hard to impress, necessarily; I just find it’s not often chefs and owners put in the work to pull off something exceptional. Not that it’s always necessary, but when it comes to opening a novel restaurant, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize being memorable is key. I’m more than pleased to report the last culinary hub to impress me as much as Dram + Morsel was Pinpoint. And if you’ve dined at Pinpoint even once, you know that’s a hell of a compliment.

Word around town was a new speakeasy-style bar and eatery would soon be popping up on the third floor of 33 South Front Street—also known as the Roudabush building. Recognize the name? It’s home to Sunday Funday-friendly Husk on the first floor and Asian-inspired YoSake on the second. The hype for Dram + Morsel seemed a touch more focused on the restaurant’s eclectic atmosphere and craft cocktails than the food. But the food? Again, wow.

I climbed three staircases to D+M on a bustling Saturday night. The hip, old-school vibe evokes New York City hotel lobbies with exposed brick walls, vintage décor (sexy candelabras, anyone?), lounge-esque black leather couches, and impressive bar lineup. Speaking of bar, first things first. Although I’m a known beer enthusiast, it’s not unusual to start (or end) my night with a few liquor-based libations. Every place in town has hopped on the craft-cocktail trend, but not everyone knows how to create the perfect pour. My go-to’s are KGB, Caprice and manna. I’m pleased to add another pit stop to my happy-hour hop. D+M’s cocktail menu is elegant, thoughtful, and blaring with originality. A word to self-proclaimed cocktail bars: If you’re not making your own syrups and bitters, step up your game.

I started with their “Fig Bourbon Fizz” with Maker’s Mark, housemade vanilla syrup, fresh fig, egg white, and cinnamon bitters. I typically find Maker’s a bit too strong for my palate, but the egg white gave the drink a lush, creamy consistency and the fig and vanilla offered warm, sweet notes that balanced out any harshness of bourbon. My boyfriend went for the “Hibiscus Manhattan,” made with Buffalo Trace, hibiscus syrup, Carpano Antica vermouth, cherry-vanilla bitters, and a sugar cube. Not only was it pleasantly fruitier than a typical Manhattan, but it was rich, sweet and expertly composed. Those who like their drinks extra strong might want a few additional splashes of booze.

D+M’s menu is focused on small, shareable plates—and it’s damn tasty tapas. First up were “Frites on Fleek”: house-cut fries with candied bacon and smoked cheddar mornay. For the average ear, that translates to: badass bacon-cheese fries. These crisp, salty spears were sticky sweet with candied bacon and gooey from smoky cheese sauce. No potato was left unpicked.

Our next small plate was the “Floured Flower.” This was D+M’s take on fried cauliflower (which has become quite the trending vegetarian appetizer). These florets were deep-fried and doused with Parmesan gremolata and toasted pine nuts. Served alongside was a smoked gouda ranch. I mean, come on. Did any of that sound bad? The cauliflower had a salty, nutty, delicate crunch and the dip was sharp, creamy, garlicky, and worthy to wear on my face.

I’m not often awestruck by sliders, as their time has come and gone. The “Lil Macs,” however, changed my mind from the moment they arrived. The bitty burgers were composed of tender strip steak, crispy potato fondant, Gruyere cheese, candied bacon, and a three-peppercorn mayo. They were savory and juicy, from top to bottom and inside out. I never thought I would say this, but sliders FTW.

I also wouldn’t expect to have outstanding tagine from anywhere that doesn’t outwardly boast specializing in Moroccan cuisine. Yet the “Wings for a King” were like a trip to Africa in my mouth. This slow-cooked, juicy chicken was falling off the bone and exploded with warm coriander and citrusy cilantro. Even after two cocktails and nom after nom of food, my boyfriend and I debated over who won the last wing.

As stated on the outside of D+M’s menu, dram is a drink of spirits and morsel is a piece of food. I hate math, but I’m happy to declare that D+M = W+O+W. Take advantage of this gem before Saturday nights become a one-hour wait.

DETAILS:
Dram + Morsel
33 S. Front St.
(910) 833-5999
Closed Mon.-Wed.;
Thurs. & Sun., 5 p.m. – 12 a .m.
Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.
www.facebook.com/dramandmorsel

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