The Bar is Where It’s At
Brixens makes fine drinks and casual fare for out-of-towners
Brixens is one part dressed-up sports bar with several big-screen TVs playing different games and one part standard American casual restaurant with burgers, fries and cold beers. It’s not the kind of fare I would go out of my way to eat, but after going to an event there a few weeks back and really enjoying the special menu, I figured it was worth the visit.
Brixens occupies prime Downtown real estate in the large corner spot at Central and Fourth Street with floor-to-ceiling windows all around—the old Café Bien spot, if you’ve been around a while. The high ceilings and generous natural light make the space very pretty inside, although all the TVs and the big neon light installations subtract from that a bit. The huge horseshoe bar is good at separating many of the sports-watchers from the diners who want a more intimate meal, thankfully. When I went to Brixens on a Wednesday night for dinner with a couple friends, I also learned that they have live music on some evenings—a dude with an acoustic guitar was playing from a weird second-story fenced-in loft situation above the bar that I hadn’t noticed before. “It looks like they expect we’re gonna throw bottles at him,” one of my dining companions said.
I was immediately suspicious when we were seated and our server handed us all iPads. He explained to us how the digital menus work (“touch an item to learn more about it and see substitution options”). At first I thought we would be able to order straight from the device, which would be a nice feature for deaf or criminally shy people who don’t want to order directly from the waiter … but that’s not what they have going on. It’s just a menu. Though each dish has a thorough description and appropriate drink pairings included in its listing—kind of cool—I admit I don’t see the point of such an expensive and cumbersome technology for a menu that could fit fairly comfortably inside a typical printed menu. And if you need to know about the ingredients in a given dish or what drink would pair well with it—well, isn’t that what waiters are for?
Anyway, let’s move away from my distaste for technology and move towards talking about the food. I started with the crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer ($9): roasted, with a generous amount of toasted walnuts and dried cranberries, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Brussels sprouts, the tastiest of the sprout family, go famously well with balsamic, and the toasted walnuts brought a nice warmth and buttery note to the scene.
For the entreé I ordered the broken tacos ($13) filled with roasted veggies, black bean and corn salsa, cheddar and cotija cheese. The three hard-shell tacos come with a side, and I went for the fries, naturally. Although I’m still not totally on board with the whole hard tacos thing (it just reminds me of the taco kits my extremely white family would get when I was a kid, you know?), I’ll admit that these thin and crispy shells provide a great texture for the simple but satisfying filling. A little bit more spice wouldn’t have hurt. But I found that missing little bit of spice on the fries, which have a chili powder spice mix and fresh herbs on top. These made me really happy, especially with the spicy mayo dipping sauce that comes with.
On a separate occasion I came into Brixens on a Sunday night to half-watch a basketball game and have dinner. I sat at the bar and discovered that there’s a very communal feel to it—because of the horseshoe shape we’re almost all looking across at each other, so you can’t be quite as solitary and unseen as you can be at other bars. Not that that’s a bad thing. I ended up talking with the tourist couple sitting next to me, who were in town for a conference and were resting their feet after walking around Downtown all afternoon. They seemed pretty enamored with the restaurant.
And I enjoyed the place more this time as well. My server, who was the same as on my earlier visit, recognized me and was friendly and familiar the whole night. When I ordered an Old Fashioned he was quick to ask if I wanted bourbon or rye, and then mentioned that the well whiskey was Evan Williams, which I decidedly do not hate. My drink came with the Big Ice Cube and a Luxardo cherry, which further legitimized the bar in my eyes.
I went to the lighter side of the menu this time and got the fruits and veggies salad ($12), a greens salad that comes with stripes of green apples, dried cranberries, carrots and mandarin oranges, with feta cheese, more of those toasted walnuts and a lemon vinaigrette on top. I could tell the walnuts had just been toasted because they were still warm from the pan, which was a great touch. After my cocktail I was suddenly starving and devoured the whole thing, but I would have loved fresh oranges in place of the canned orange halves they had in there.
There seemed to be a lot of out-of-towners around the bar, and I came to realize that tourists are Brixens’ target market. Its location in the middle of Downtown really helps in that respect. One of the owners came out and chatted with several of the patrons, including the tourists next to me who picked his brain on local lore. He sat and talked with a man sitting at a table behind me about their vegan options, and then with another woman at the bar who had a lot of food allergies and wanted to make sure certain dishes were safe for her. If Brixens excels at anything it’s hospitality: They’re happy to customize dishes to accommodate diets and allergies, their staff is very friendly, and they want diners to have a good time above all else. While I’m not blown away by the food (or the dumb iPad menus), I enjoy the welcoming atmosphere quite a lot. If I happened to be Downtown and hungry, I’d certainly stop in to watch a game at the bar, drink a cocktail or two and make friends with some tourists.
400 Central Ave. SW
Alibi Recommends: Fruits and veggies salad, Brussels sprouts, Old Fashioned
Vibe: Casual and welcoming