09 April 2010

This Dark Horse should be put down

As soon as I caught wind about the Carolina barbecue/tex-mex themed menu of the Dark Horse Saloon (originally titled the Stranger's Pub) I caught wood. I'd been counting the days until it's grand opening in early-March. Barbecue and Nuevo-Tex-Mex fusion is most certainly a type of cuisine I'm very passionate about, and I was uber-excited to try a local chef's take. I was able to find a few more details about the chef's crudentials on the great local blog Bel Air News and Views and was also excited to see that the food was positively reviewed there. So I invited a few friends out to try as much of their menu as we could for lunch a few Sundays ago.

 As I'm pretty sure the menu has yet to be posted online, I'll happily be the first to provide my loyal readers with a never-before-seen look:

The beer selection was decent and I went with a Harp. Various other drink orders were made and my dad's girlfriend actually sent back her house chardonnay. Not a good sign. After I read online that they offered tater tots on their app menu I was determined to try them so I placed an order for the pulled pork tots and, as we're all huge fans of guacamole, we decided to try the crab guacamole.

The first thing to hit our table was a basket of their complimentary chips and salsa, the quality of which would be indicative of the overall quality of the food served here, which is disappointing.

The both the chips and the salsa tasted like grocery store bought but after a few bites I found the salsa strangely addicting. It had a light smokiness to it with a little back end sweetness that grew on me over time. Even though my wife liked them, to me the chips were perfectly uninteresting. They didn't hold a candle to the chips served at a variety of other places around Bel Air, even Chili's.

Looking over these photos I just noticed a discrepancy in our tots. The menu describes them as "slow smoked pulled pork over crisp golden tots with sliced jalapeno and melted cheddar jack cheese with ranchero sauce" and you can clearly see from my photo that there is no ranchero sauce in sight and instead our tots were topped with coleslaw. I assume it was a change they made after they published the menu, but it could've well been a mistake in the kitchen. Who knows?

Overall the tots were decent. The taters themselves could've been a bit more tender as they were more like little crunchy potato nuggets, but that might be more of a personal preference. The pulled pork was actually pretty decent. While I didn't really taste any smoke flavor, probably due to the fact that it was covered in toppings, I was pleasantly surprised to see a redness to the meat, signifying a genuine smoke ring. Otherwise it was adequately tender and saucy sweet. The coleslaw was light and creamy, but I think the tots could've used the promised ranchero sauce as overall the dish seemed a tad dry. Also I would've like the toppings incorporated into the dish more as they were just laid on top in an unappealing sheet.

Sorry about the weird angle, I had to reach across the table for this shot. Anyway, the crab quacamole was the first (aside from the chardonnay) huge disappointment of the meal. When I read crab guacamole I pictured something uber fresh and chunky and made to order... The quacamole that we got was way too salty and pureed into oblivion. It was reminiscent of the quac at Taco Bell as it had that synthetic glue-like taste to it. I'm not 100% postitive the crab was canned but I thought I detected a tinny note to it, and it barely held any crabby flavor. This dish needs a major overhaul. Terrible.

I'll take this opportunity to briefly go over their house-made barbecue sauces. Three different sauces were brought to the table: Bama Red, Classic Carolina, and Charleston Gold.

I will admit that these sauces were up against some pretty stiff competition. I usually either make my own barbecue sauce or when I'm feeling lazy I pick up a few bottles from Andy Nelson's in Cockeysville. And, as I expected, these sauces didn't fell well short of my standards. The Bama was way too sweet and my homemade sauce blew it out of the water. The Classic Carolina wasn't classic at all and was completely one dimensional. All I tasted was sweetness, no vinegar, no spice, just sweet. The only sauce I thought decent was the Charleston Gold which is a mustard-based sauce. This may be due to the fact that this was my first time trying a mustard-based barbecue sauce. My friend Zack who was also dining with us is a huge fan of Andy Nelson's Betty's South Carolina Sauce said something along the lines of it being a bajillion times better than the Charleston Gold we were tasting. I made a mental note to try Andy Nelson's version.

We placed our orders and while we waited for our food we got a chance to listen to a horrible music selection which included Country, Brittany Spears, T-Payne, and Elvis Costello. The waitress remarked that it was a set looping song list and after only a week of working there she had already wanted to blow her brains out.

I went out on a limb and ordered the Triple Crown sandwich which featured brisket, pulled pork, and smoke sausage topped with bacon, cheddar jack cheese, and crispy onion pedals served on a kaiser roll. I asked the waitress how the fried onions were because usually I'm not a fan and she said they were good so I decided to try it with all the fixin's.

What a disappointing sandwich. All I could taste was sausage. While the sausage was pretty good, it overpowered everything else. I had to lift up the bun to verify the crispy onion things were even on there.

I've got a menu change idea for them "The Sausage sandwich topped with pretty but tasteless assorted meats and cheese" At least this was the diner would know what to expect.

See? It looks nice doesn't it? So much potential. So much epic failure. And the fries? Pathetically limp and undercooked little potato strips. Soggified to the max, ya dig? I appreciated the fact that they were skin-on which is how I prefer my fries, but that is about the only thing positive I can say about them. I have no notes about the bun, so I can't say whether or not it was anything special. It appeared not of the grocery store brand variety which I was initially impressed by. I remember it being soft and a little sweet, but that's about it. Now for some quick notes on the other dishes at the table.

When I inquired about my wife's mahi mahi tacos she said they needed acidity and were quite bland. I was relieved because I almost ordered them as fish tacos are one of my favorite foods. I was eager to try a bite hoping to redeem my sinking opinion of the place. I took one bite and my senses were assailed with horrid fishiness. If I had ordered them I would've immediately sent them back. I asked her how she could eat them and she said that she was starving and didn't want to waste food. I was disappointed with the fact that she didn't speak up and send them back, as I surely would have.

The brisket and the ribs received the highest praise from the table. The brisket was nice and juicy and tender and overall well executed. My first bite of the ribs was all fat and gristle due to the fact that they were untrimmed spares (which is why I always trim mine St. Louis-style). They had a nice bite to them, they were toothsome if you will, and they came off of the bone easily, but unfortunately upon inspection I could detect no smoke ring.

The black beans were underseasoned and undercooked. The kale was also a little undercooked. The broccoli on the other hand was severely overcooked which reminded me of how my mom used to overcook them into mushy oblivion.

The mac & cheese looked good but my dad said it was kind of bland, although I didn't get a chance to verify that. Like I said before the coleslaw was light and creamy but on it's own it needed a little more sweetness to it. I think this was offset by the barbecue sauce on our pulled pork tots.

While I most certainly can say that I do not recommend this eating establishment, as I have absolutely no desire to eat there again, if for whatever reason you do decide to try your luck stick to the ribs, the brisket, or the sausage. As for which sides to order? You're on your own there.

I'm extremely excited about my upcoming NYC Pizza day-trip which will be the subject matter of my next post or two. I'll be sure to take a lot of notes because it looks like we'll be hitting quite a few places. Our itinerary features definite stops at Di Fara, Totonno's on Coney Island, Motorino East Village, and Keste. Optional stops, depending on time, include Luzzo's, Artichoke Basille's, John's of Bleeker Street, Famous Joe's, and Bleeker Street Pizza. In case you were wondering, yes, I will be packing my second stomach in my shoulder bag. Stay tuned for Pizza Quest 2010.

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theminx said...

I almost had a slice at Artichoke Basille's the other day, but the slices were so huge, and I had recently had lunch so decided to skip it.

That mixed-meat sammie you had may have worked better with a milder-flavored sausage like bratwurst over smoked sausage. Or not. LOL.

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