Below the Radar, which opened in September, is Huntsville’s first “brew pub”, offering local beers (including their own) and offering higher end food. I was thrilled to hear that Chef Bill Harden, formerly with 801 Franklin had found a new home and was looking forward to a visit.
After one aborted attempt (be forewarned, if you don’t have reservations, be prepared to wait), we finally made it in on a Friday night. The restaurant is divided into several rooms, a larger front room with the bar, and two smaller back rooms. Our reservation landed us in the furthest back room which was almost quiet enough for a comfortable conversation. However, the room’s awkward placement ensured a steady stream of passers-by as the wait staff moved from the kitchen to what appeared to be a staging area of some sort.
Our server appeared promptly to take our drink orders. Being as the beer is a major attraction, the hubby asked him for recommendations on IPAs and was met with a somewhat vague and noncommittal response. Going off that scant guidance he selected a Rogue Brutal Bitter IPA while I stuck to a Dr Pepper.
We perused the menu while taking in the decor. A flat panel TV was showing a basketball game and we spied a projector set to display images on a blank wall. The balance of the walls were hung with paintings by Yuri Ozaki, a local artist who paints Huntsville specific scenes.
The menu encompasses classic bar fare (fish and chips, onion rings, peanuts) as well as more traditionally high end dishes (caramelized brussel sprouts, butternut squash risotto). The menu was broken into two categories “Bar Menu” and “Dinner Menu”. The Bar Menu featured more small plates, sandwiches, and generally less pricey fare. The Dinner Menu offered appetizers, dinner plates, soups and salads.
The hubby and I are still mourning leaving our favorite fish and chip shop behind in our college town so we zeroed in on that pretty quickly. I asked our server for a recommendation between the beef short ribs and the fish and chips. He hemmed and hawed and insisted that while the fish and chips were sort of “their thing” they were both excellent. Knowing that the hubby would get the fish and chips, I went with the short ribs.
After several check ins and an attempted delivery of our neighboring table’s dishes, we finally received our food.
My short rib was served with brussel sprouts on a bed of polenta. The “gravy” listed on the menu was a small amount of sauce between the beef and polenta. The brussel sprouts were delicious. Slightly crunchy with a light coating of oil, the delicate flavors of the seasoning melted wonderfully. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. The polenta had a slightly coarse texture and had such a mild flavor as to be almost bland. Neither the texture or the flavor went well with the short ribs. The ribs themselves were a disappointment. While tender enough to cut easily, the coarse, thick grain reminded me of a pot roast and was chewy. The flavor was best described as “beefy”, no real seasoning or other flavors were noticeable.
The hubby’s fish and chips (shown at the top of this post) were gorgeous, piled onto a bed of fries and served with a small scoop of coleslaw and a generous amount of tartar sauce. He raved about the cole slaw, but the bite I had left me breathless. The vinegar base was so strong that it carried a dry vapor to the back of my throat.
I wanted to like Below the Radar more than I actually did. It’s a great concept and I think if you are there, first and foremost for the beer, the bar, or the games, then the food is a step up from the typical fare. I suspect that the old standards (like the fish and chips which we saw multiple plates of) are better executed than the items which are ordered less often. However, I was unimpressed with my short ribs and disappointed with the dish’s flavor profile, especially for a hefty $23 price tag.
Service was friendly but scattered. The hubby had to ask two different people for a glass of water before receiving one. Food and drinks for the next table over were delivered to us twice. Our meals took over a half an hour to arrive. Any one of these would be a minor issue, but taken together it shows a staff that is either overworked or checked out.
I’d be willing to stop back in and give them another chance, but next time I think I’ll stick to the crowd favorites.
Total for the meal: $57.22 (Includes two dinner plates, one soda and one Rouge Brutal Bitter IPA)
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