If you were planning on tucking into a bit of toasted bread topped with molten cheddar cheese and a rasher of bacon at The Rarebit, you are barking up the wrong culinary tree.
The rabbit at 474 King St. is all about the race: One lured by mechanical rabbits and chased by lean greyhound racing dogs.
This is not a restaurant homage to the Welsh dish of cheese melted in beer but to the “sport” of greyhound racing made popular in the 1920s.
Owner John Adamson displays the winning racing silks of hounds 1, 5 and 8 on the walls of his sleek and modern bar and restaurant on Upper King Street. The “track” is very much a part of the decor and design package down to the trough-like sinks in the bathrooms and posters of the race gates and rabbits in a variety of forms.
The railroad design of the restaurant marries well with the streamlined menu that celebrates regional and local flavors in a very basic, home-cooked style.
Adamson’s stint at Boylan Heights (Charlottesville, Va.), a burger mecca, assures well-constructed burgers and hot, crisp fries.
The Rarebit is a multipurpose neighborhood place that offers breakfast all day (albeit a breakfast service that begins at 11 a.m.), a great spot for culinary ballast before a night on the town or comfort foods for calming afterward. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are simple and succinct.
The ambition of the kitchen is tempered with a well-constructed menu and cooks that deliver well-conceived dishes prepared with skill.
Roasted tomato soup ($5) and hearty chicken soup with egg noodles ($5) plumb childhood taste memories, but the addition of basil puree to the tomato soup ratchets up the flavor profile for today’s modern cook. Add a grilled cheese sandwich ($4) that presents crisply griddled white bread and melted layers of cheese and you have a value meal.
The burger ($4 single, $5 double, $1 cheese) is a model of its form: juicy, well-flavored meat, a smear of mustard and ketchup, a crisp and tart pickle slice, a warmed Cuban bun. The ingredients unite in those primal flavors that tempt us all.
Shrimp in a po’boy ($9) snapped with freshness and the house-made mustard remoulade polished the lettuce and tomatoes with tang. This same sandwich can be had with catfish ($9). Both are served on a New Orleans French roll.
BBQ pork ($9) on a potato bun with vinegar sauce and Dixie slaw brings a bit of roadside smoky pleasure to the table.
Salads are dressed with house-made dressings and can be gilded with chicken ($4) or shrimp ($5) and even grilled cheese ($3). They fill a plate and easily sate hunger.
Breakfast fans can dine at the table of local with Geechie Boy grits ($4), Keegan Filion sausage ($4), waffles topped with sorghum-infused syrup ($6) and an old-school diner favorite: a fried egg sandwich with bacon, eggs and cheese ($6).
Dinner “mains” are equally well-prepared. Among them are a greaseless catfish ($14) whose grits were a bit stiff but whose spinach side was sauteed green velvet. The pecan crust was a bit under “pecaned’ and the tartar sauce needed some acid, but the fish and spinach sang a song of the South.
Ratatouille ($11), vegan burgers ($8), fish and chips ($14) and vegetable sides will please those not eating meat.
Our well-trained server was attentive and thoughtfully brought two spoons with a soup order.
Brent Sweatman has created the cocktail menu and makes in-house sodas ($3.50) in ginger beer, root beer, herbal tonic and seasonal flavors. Juices are freshly pressed for the cocktails ($7-$9), and wine and beer are nicely matched to the food offerings.
I’m not sure what is going on with the petty thievery of the copper Moscow Mule ($8) mugs, but it is interesting to note that a cocktail from the “buck” or “mule” family, one with ginger beer added, was designed to encourage Americans to drink vodka.
Let the mugs remain at The Rarebit so as not to discourage our wonderful cocktail community from using appropriate glassware.
Desserts are outsourced to the talented Lauren Mitterer at WildFlour Bakery and at the time of our visit included warm, double-crust apple pie ($6), Bourbon pecan pie ($6) and a daily special, chocolate cake. Make your dessert a la mode for $1 more.
Do check out the 21st-century cigarette vending machine, the Art-O-Mat that dispenses cellophane-wrapped “packs of art.”
I do question if the patrons recognize the king of cool in Steve McQueen; possibly a posturing Daniel Craig would resonate in 2013.
Kudos to Adamson and his team for shrouding those televisions behind appliance garage “doors,” keeping the pricing friendly, the food fresh and the lure of The Rarebit not in the least mechanical.