With a vibe somewhere between a chic bourbon house and a laid-back blues bar, the newly opened Twisted Tail, 509 S. Second St., is a welcome addition to the cluster of restaurants that bookend South Street.
The loose and somewhat austere vibe of the places lends itself well to a night of casual dining, drinking and conversation, even after the musicians show up nightly to crank out the blues upstairs.
The Southern-inspired menu is both upscale and down-home, giving familiar dishes a fresh perspective. Oftentimes the results are stellar.
Twisted Tails’ brightest moment came in the form of the primal chili ($7), a hearty, spicy and somewhat sweet concoction with a menagerie of farm meats (duck, beef and pork) giving wonderful texture and flavor to the accompanying white beans and chocolate sea salt. We would have gladly taken on a bowl five times bigger than the one they brought to the table.
The crawfish mac and cheese ($12) was also thoroughly enjoyable, without the many cheeses overwhelming the flavors of the crawfish. The primal oysters ($12) exceeded expectations too, served slightly roasted with a refreshing watermelon chow chow relish.
The dueling ribs ($12) were an interesting concept featuring pork, beef and Pacu fish ribs. Kudos to Twisted Tail for trying to invite fish enthusiasts to the rib table, but pork and beef won this duel hands down. Both land-walking varieties of ribs played it safe with the spicing but had enough smoky goodness to hold their own against the best backyard-barbecue-ribs you can find. The fish was a valiant effort, but running side by side with beef and pork didn’t do it any favors: The fish (perfectly cooked, by the way) didn’t take to the sauces with the same abandon as its rib brothers on the plate.
The Twisted Tail really turned on the Southern charm with its entrées. The kettle-chip-crusted crab cakes ($23) were brilliant. The chips gave the cakes a crunchy crust without having to fry the living daylights out of the cake, leaving the center pleasantly warm, moist and fluffy. The cakes rested on a bed of corn and bacon ragout with tomato jam added a fresh dimension of flavor to the dish.
The Jersey blue fish ($21) was nicely seasoned, resting on a bed of vegetables with the unexpected topping of crispy clams, whose impressive size and looming fried presence gave the dish a decadent and welcome slant.
But if there’s one dish that unapologetically screams Southern decadence, it’s the dry-aged cowboy steak ($29), a slab of aggressively seasoned meat that formed the foundation for a massive pile of giant onion rings, all sitting next to an equally impressive pile of roasted mushrooms. The whole dish was a worthwhile explosion of flavor and Southern overkill.
After the onslaught of the entrées, the restraint showed with dessert was a relief. The Key lime ricotta pie ($7) took mercy on us, imparting the key lime flavor we so craved without the overwhelming heaviness and sweetness that usually rides shotgun with a treat.
It’s safe to say the Tail will soon have diners twisted around its finger.