Published June 21. 2012 4:00AM Updated June 21. 2012 5:27PM
There are some who say the town of Deep River is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, particularly if the acts at local watering hole The Ivory are any indicator. But DR's newest eatery, Red House, proves that duality all the more.
Red House, in the space formerly occupied by Restaurant du Glace and its next-door patisserie, is not just cleverly named. Inside, red walls sport art in homage to classic rock and roll greats. If the notion of gazing at album art that made Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, the Stones and the Dead et al household names as you munch on Southern comforts like brisket, fried chicken and fried pickles and okra, Red House awaits, right on Main Street in Deep River's adorable little downtown area.
Now, I got spoiled on fried pickles thanks to Eli Cannon's in Middletown. As I remember them, they're tangy, toothy and terrific. I had yet to find anything comparable Eli's pickles until now. Red House renders them nearly chip thin, coated in cornmeal and lightly fried. You get a pleasant tease of tangy pickle before the cornmeal crunch takes over, a flavor balance that really doesn't need the accompanying ranch-esque dipping sauce, but try the sauce anyway, because it's well done. I previously had no use for okra (I know: somewhere Koster is crying), but prepped in cornmeal Red House-style, I'm in.
If fried food isn't your bag, consider the black bean dip on the app menu. It's a cheesy, pepper-y hot mass that comes with a heaping portion of truly tasty tortilla chips (read: not stale Tostitos from a BJ's Val-U bag). On a recent visit, our bean dip arrived hell hot and a little dried out as a result, but the stuff still managed to get good marks for inherent flavor from our table after a goodly amount of cool-down time.
If there's one dish I demand you try, it's the macaroni and cheese, which comes decked with jalapeno bacon and corn bread crumbles. Three cheeses marry beautifully to make this dish a thick, rib-sticking pleasure, with just the right amount of heat from the peppered bacon, and the cornbread makes for a great sweet-ish, crumbly complement. Thanks to a big portion, there's plenty to enjoy the next day when the flavors have had even more time to merge and, as such, bring a second dose of joy to the recipient.
Recommendation #2 is the Crispy Chicken, which is buttermilk fried chicken done in Sriracha honey sauce. Now, typically I don't go for fried chicken when I'm out and about, as it tends to be greasy crud on top of "chicken." But they had me at "Sriracha." Well, and "buttermilk." But, I'm glad I did, because Crispy Chicken is the cure for what ails ya (I'm you're not a vegetarian) at the end of a long week. The chicken breast is fairly lightly fried, and the batter is a thick, nobbly coat that's nearly as enjoyable as the chicken. Add the fire of the Sriracha sauce, and you've got a nice update on classic comfort food. Pair all that with garlic-y wilted greens with stewed tomatoes and excellent barbecue beans, and all's right with the world. If a place can make the side veg equally as tasty as the main dish, it's on the right track.
Naturally, we couldn't pass up the BBQ platter, which features pulled pork, brisket and ribs, with a side of shoestring fries (very good) and coleslaw (not bad). We sampled it with mixed results (which didn't stop my husband from taking home every scrap of leftovers): the pork was fabulously juicy but kind of low on flavor. Note: every table at Red House comes with a basket of assorted condiments and sauces (including the wonderful Cholula brand hot sauce), so maybe the chef is leaving it up to us folks to deck out our food as we see fit.
Despite the mellow flavor, the super tender pork was the best part of the platter for me; the ribs for my husband, who tends to be a rib guy (unlike me). But I can see his point: the rub on the ribs was terrific - sort of a cinnamon, clove, maybe chipotle pepper combo - and the portion was generous.
As for the brisket, it looked incredibly promising. It yielded to the fork in a way that one would prefer, but, alas, it was too bland and far too chewy to compete with the great pitmasters of the South.
All of which is hardly a major disaster when key lime pie is on the dessert menu. Another intriguing option was sweet potato cheesecake, but I won the arm-wrestling match over the dessert choice, and it's a good thing I did. (My husband was raised by a Southerner who had very high standards for key lime pie; he was all about that cheesecake, thinking the key lime would be one in a series of disappointments.) However, the key lime pie got raves from both of us. Dusted in crushed graham crackers, the pie was what it ought to be: namely, not florescent green and not Smarties-candy sour. Instead, Red House offers a layered rendition, with a creamy mix between top layer and key-lime base, all upon a stout graham cracker crust. I look forward to trying that cheesecake, if the key lime pie is any indicator of Red House's dessert-savvy.
Red House opened in April, so for a place to have so much going for it so early on is impressive indeed. Live music on weekends has offered a mix of acts as intriguing as the dinner menu. Take a look at the schedule online to see if you'd rather hit Red House on a rock and roll night, or on evening that's just a little more country.