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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Columbia Eats: The Whig

There are local bars, and then there are local bars. The Whig is most definitely in the latter category, tucked down the stairs with nothing more than a platform sign hanging on the wall of the ABC news building. By spread of most word-of-mouth and the occasional press from the Free Times however, the Whig's lived off of its college locals who mostly survive off the extremely generous beer list and 50 cent Taco Tuesdays.

Behind the beer and cheap tacos, however, is one of the best guilty-pleasure menus in town. The starters in particularly are devilish and perfect for splitting with a crowd after a few rounds. A couple of friends and I decided to go for broke and hit the highlights last week, ordering a deathly trio of gouda mac and cheese, pizza fries, and poutine. The gouda mac and cheese is kind of a thing of legends at The Whig with penne pasta covered from top to bottom in gooey gouda. The pizza fries sound like a random night of mistakes gone wild, but the pile of sausage, pepperoni, and cheese on top of steak fries is kind of brilliant, especially with the light marinara sauce. It's the kind of dish so blindingly insane that it sparks a touch of genius, actually making perfect sense a few bites in.

And then there was the poutine. Traditionally, a Canadian dish consisting of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, the Whig's poutine doesn't quite hit the mark with the kind of cheese curds you'd normally find on Canadian poutine, but it's still a devastatingly good pile of crispy steak fries covered in gravy and cheese nonetheless, something our table had no trouble gouging down. The gravy kind of touches on a lot of Southern sensibilities with the fries and cheese, making for a kind of ultra-comforting dish. If you're just looking for a snack to eat while drinking with friends, throw caution into the wind and give these dishes a whirl for sure.

After taking some time to recover from the storm that was the three starters, we decided to grab a handful of Whig burgers; insane behemoth burgers piled with melted gouda, local bacon, gravy (!) and a sriracha aioli. Totally killer bites of guilty pleasure. The flavors meld well and pack a punch going down. An order of sweet potato fries and sauteed zucchini and broccoli also hit our table as the sides. Sweet, crispy, and flavorful, the sweet potato fries were some of the better I've had in recent memory. The zucchini and broccoli were also fine, sauteed in a bit of butter but still firm and keeping their character. A nice side to help curb some of the carb insanity.

No Reservations, the Downlow on The Whig
Atmosphere: Casual, local bar.
Costs: Very reasonable for starters, fair prices for entrees.
Between $5-6. to lower tens at most.
Mondays are $1 slice pizza for anyone with light wallets.
Try: The Whig burger and gouda mac and cheese.
Don't: Wait up at the table. Orders come in and out at the bar.

If you decide on a night at the Whig, make sure you get your exercise in beforehand because you'll be in for a heavy, but insanely satisfying taste of the good life. They also feature some interesting pizza choices along with a few other comfort dishes that cut back on some of the guilt for those seeking less daring adventures. Going to The Whig is an adventure in itself for first-timers, being down a narrow unmarked stairway in the middle of downtown and behind a rusty graffiti covered metal door. It might be an adventure getting there, but trust me when I say there are no risks when it comes to The Whig. Everyone needs a hideaway after a rough day at work, in class, or life in general. If you live in the Columbia area, The Whig might just be yours.

The Whig Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 9, 2012

Columbia Eats: Mezza's Lebanese Bistro and Hookah Lounge

There's oddly not necessarily a shortage of Mediterranean/Lebanese food in Columbia with places like Al Amir, Elie's and more floating around, but the Vista somehow was one place that missed the boat on the ethnic flair until Mezza's opened. Just down the street from Publix in a strip, Mezza is a pretty trendy little place with a small, but neat menu of classic Lebanese fare such as falafel, shawrma, and kebobs along side some not so normal eats you would expect in a place like this.

I visited the restaurant just past lunch time with a friend and immediately ordered a Turkish coffee (because really, how often can I?) along with a plate of Phoenician fries, a behemoth of heavily rosemary and thymed out potatoes covered in lemon, garlic and feta cheese. While the fries could have been crispier, we still mopped this monster up in a hurry. The salty feta and herby fries were a nice pairing that was hard to resist, with the lemon in particular balancing everything out. It's a touch on the oily side though, so make sure you have someone to share this with. The Turkish coffee was served in a neat vessel along with two miniature cups. Strong, robust, and heavy on bitter, it's definitely not a beginners coffee, but one worth trying out for the novelty alone.

While the side menu features some interesting choices like the Phoenician fries, the entree menu is a tidy choice between, falafel, beef or chicken shawrma, and some kebobs - all in wrap variety. Eaters can get an option between just the wrap or plate with sides like fattouch, hummus, salad, yogurt and more. As fun and interesting as the fries were, the entrees were somewhat more forgettable. I had a falafel wrap, which was crispy, flavorful and attractively packaged with red onion, lettuce, and beets, but leaned more to the dry side. My side of hummus was also a pleasure to look at, but rather thin and lacking the savory punch of a good hummus. My friend ordered a kafta kabob with a side of tabbouleh and yogurt. Also dry, but the kabob was saved with spoonfuls of yogurt to help down the wrap. The tabbouleh was different, to say the least, with incredibly green accents that wasn't bad, but not necessarily what either of us was expecting.

No Reservations, The 411 on Mezza's
Atmosphere: Leans much more toward the bistro side, upscale casual.
Costs: Mostly fair for the area. Appetizers range from $5-7 and are significant enough to be shared. Entrees are $5 for individual wraps, $8 for platters.
Try: Phoenician Fries.
Skip: Entrees. Snack and go.

Overall, for a first experience Mezza's was a little on the uneven side. They have a fun, interesting menu of appetizer and snacks that are certainly worth revisiting, along with a decent listing of drinks to try while enjoying the latter portion of the restaurants namesake. Their entrees and sides don't quite make the cut though. However, if you are still aching for some falafel, order the individual wrap and tag on one of the appetizers for a filling meal. Worth a visit, but unless you are into hookahs, this may not be the place to curb your Lebanese needs.

Mezza Lebanese Bistro and Hookah Lounge on Urbanspoon