Shuttered for several weeks to undergo a rebirth of sorts, Down One Bourbon Bar has returned with a more laid-back atmosphere and a restaurant menu aimed at accessibility. In fact, the logo reflects a moniker now altered to Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant.
The bar hasn’t pulled back on the bourbon theme — the selection is still extensive, and whiskey flights are the norm — but the blend of Southern and Mexican cuisine at nice price points should prove Down One’s aim is true.
I dropped in for a late lunch one recent afternoon, and the place was empty save for a couple of parties sitting at the bar. I joined them there, ordered an ice water and began scanning the menu: brisket chili, various appetizers, a variety of taco styles, biscuit-based dishes, burgers and sandwiches and salads are what’s cooking.
I honestly had a difficult time deciding, which is a good sign, so I decided to eat my meal in waves, first starting with an appetizer of Mexican-style flat iron street corn, forgoing choices like fried cheese curds, Frito pie and grilled onion guacamole.
The corn came out within five or six minutes, a full ear came topped with bourbon salt and tajin, served atop a creamy cotija queso, garnished with lime.
My first complaint was that the corn was warm, not hot, but that small issue faded quickly enough when I squirted lime juice on the corn and began eating. The light spice from the tajin complemented the sweetness of the corn, and the savory cheese helped balance the lime brightness. Quite a tasty, if a bit messy, starter.
Next, I chose a single pork shoulder carnitas taco — there also are choices of chopped brisket, chicken adobo and a masa-crusted catfish. The bonus here, and a feature that might just make Down One a happening lunch and happy hour spot, is the taco bar in the bar area.
You get your taco served in double corn tortillas and topped only with cilantro and chopped onion, like a classic Mexican street taco, and on the bar you can choose from three salsas, pickled vegetables, pico de gallo, tomato, limes, sour cream and more.
I boosted my taco with pico, fresh jalapeño slices, salsa verde and a side of the vegetables, with a lime wedge, creating a taco that was as tasty as it was colorful. I had expected a bit more tenderness from the pork, but it was tender enough and certainly flavorful. Not bad for $3.50.
Finally, I managed to overshoot my belly capacity with a sandwich choice called the Southern Comfort Biscuit, a huge, four-corners-style biscuit with cured ham, bacon, pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.
As soon as it arrived, I could sense there was no way I was going to be able to finish it off. I had to marvel at the thing, because deconstructed, it could make a plate of Southern favorites. As a single entity, it sort of represents the South incarnate — heck, it’s almost a caricature of itself.
But the thin-sliced ham was lightly fried and delicious, the two strips of thick, crispy bacon amped up the salty meat assault, the two medium-sized tomatoes were coated in a peppery, cornmeal batter, and the tasty pimento cheese had just a hint of spice and helped pull everything together.
Heck, the biscuit alone with some butter would have made a reasonable lunch option. But the sandwich was part lunch, part conversation piece.
Incidentally, another option on the menu is the Smoked Brisket Biscuit, with brisket on the same type of biscuit, topped with white cheese gravy, pickles and onions; it’s a sandwich you eat with a knife and fork. I nearly got that after the couple next to me shared one and I noticed how delicious it looked and smelled.
Maybe next time I’ll bring a friend and try one out.
All in all, the laid-back, affordable food and the more cozy environs feel like a win for Down One — the three items I enjoyed totaled about $15 in all, and I took home leftovers.
Couple that with friendly service, and a key stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail gets even more inviting.
And in addition to the taco bar, look for a chef’s taco of the day option coming soon. Of course, the inviting porch is a fine destination for summer months, and live bluegrass music is on tap all summer.
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant, located at 321 W. Main St., is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday; and 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday.