Photo by Chris Kessler
Trouble brews when restaurant owners tamper with their menus. It’s a known fact. Some diners just don’t adapt well to change. Take an example from the summer, when close-to-11-year-old Bay View haunt palomino went on hiatus for a roughly two-month overhaul.
The reboot resulted in a fancier kitchen, new restrooms and a spruced-up dining room. But the menu metamorphosis has proved controversial for the bar-resto’s fans. Still, co-owner Adam Lucks isn’t looking back. And why would he? The changes enable the kitchen staff to smoke meats in-house, and bake its desserts and breads. It started with biscuits and cornbread, and will eventually include all the sandwich buns. Final-course options – including “big old-lady cakes,” as co-owner Val Lucks calls them – are displayed in a dessert case in the dining room.
Much of the menu is improved from the deep-fried bar food of yore, and the owners expected some backlash. In upgrading the quality of the ingredients – to grass-fed beef, humanely raised poultry and pork from farm-raised hogs – menu prices have gone up, necessarily reflecting the switch. The sad truth is that we pay for higher-grade food.
The owners also changed the way they price their plates, and that hasn’t gone over well with some diners. Before the Pal makeover, most items came with two sides. Now, everything is a la carte. Burgers are $8. Fries, tots or hush puppies run an extra $3-$4. It’s all semantics, but packaging the main items (sandwiches, burgers, meats) with one side and raising the price as needed might have rankled patrons less.
Adam Lucks, however, didn’t set out to make Palomino a cheap meal. He wanted to make a better meal. In some respects, he’s succeeded. The cast-iron fried chicken – served with sawmill gravy and a baking powder biscuit ($12) – is the best item on the menu. And it doesn’t need an extra side.
A meat smoker is an asset, to be sure, but in late July, the staff was still figuring out how to get the best results from grass-fed beef. The brisket ($12) was dry, which is common when meat doesn’t have the fat content that beef from corn-fed cattle does. The smoked pork shoulder fares much better. Shredded and smothered in sweet Carolina-style mustard sauce, it’s served either as a pile of “Meat” ($12, with biscuit) or on a sandwich, topped with cider vinegar-based cabbage slaw ($8).
Veg-based plates aren’t as prevalent as they once were, but that’s partly due to the packaging of the menu. My one fault with the black-eyed pea falafel po’ boy is the bun is too big. It’s easier to just eat the filling – including the cabbage slaw and tangy remoulade ($7) – and discard the heavy bun.
The chicken wings are flagged with a “V,” so vegans still have their “tofulo” wing alternative ($9). But the spongy, meatless wings are no substitute for real chicken wings with cola glaze and buttermilk dressing ($9).
Let me be honest here. I might ditch the meats (and meat alternatives) altogether and order sides ($2-$7) like the homemade tater tots; hush puppies; creamy, butter-smudged grits; and the Southern rice dish called hoppin’ John. It’s like Thanksgiving. The sides are the best part.
The furor over Pal’s changes will ease. New diners will wander in, and old ones will return. Because ultimately, these changes were the right ones.