Perhaps it was the delightful company I kept at Solbird Kitchen and Tap, or maybe I was simply in the mood for something different on the Sunday I went for brunch, but something changed about my perception of the place that morning.
More likely it was just that I was hungry and fell in love with the plate of chilaquiles that was the first – and best – dish I had there.
It's not that my first visit to this merger between a taco truck and local brewing company on Dupont Road near Lima Road, in the space that was once home to Friends, wasn't enjoyable – it was just that everything was better at brunch.
Those chilaquiles were really more like nachos, but that didn't hurt it a bit. The chips were key, and they did not get soggy like many versions of this sauce-soaked, day-after Mexican staple. The corn tortilla chips puffed up beautifully by being double-fried so they were crunchy but had a light, airy consistency.
The chips were dusted with a zippy red seasoning and topped with chicken or pork – I chose the latter – a delicious green roasted tomatillo salsa, red onions, cilantro, queso fresco and crema. The pork was tender and nicely seasoned, and I could have eaten plate after plate of these, because the ingredients truly sung together.
There was no better match on the menu for one of the brewery's unique concoctions, the Beermosa – Birdboy Brewing's Taildragger Belgian pale ale mixed with orange juice and sparkling wine. The other two ingredients took the bitter, hoppy edge off the pale ale. It was tart, not too sweet and reminded me of a seasonal shandy beer.
All of the Birdboy brews I tried fared well, and though none really stood out, none disappointed. In these brewery-centric times, that is a good thing. It's better to have a multitude of solid offerings instead of a few hits and many misses.
There were no misses at brunch, and I loved that many of the offerings were easy to share with my friends. Not only were the chilaquiles in the “best-of” conversation, the avocado toast was perhaps the best version of this trendy dish I have had in the Summit City.
The sourdough toast was the right base, as it was just soft enough while still having a good crunch. It also had a lot of crevices to hold the creamy avocado mash. Atop that mash were diced tomatoes, red onions, cilantro and thinly sliced radishes, all of which was drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and a little sea salt.
The radishes and onions added the right peppery flair, the tomatoes were sweet and ripe, and it was that combination that made every bite exciting.
The Back of the House Breakfast Tacos didn't sound all that exciting, but they were fantastic. Chorizo, scrambled eggs and cheddar overstuffed the two grilled corn tortillas, and the combination of cilantro, crema and a creamy Tapatio hot sauce was wonderful.
The Death by Brunch Burrito didn't kill me, but it was killer. The cubes of Wood Farms sirloin were super tender and packed a lot of beefy flavor that did not get lost among the scrambled eggs, colorful mixed grilled potatoes, grilled peppers and onions, and chihuahua cheese.
The flour tortilla was well stuffed and tightly wrapped, so it was easy to handle; that tortilla was pressed and grilled nicely, and I had nary a complaint.
The biggest complaint came when brunch was over. The Shrimp Ceviche pretty much lied to me. Described as including marinated shrimp, pico de gallo, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado crema and tortilla chips, it was more like nachos, just like the chilaquiles, but it didn't work in this case.
I was served six chips with a little shrimp, queso and avocado crema neatly placed on top. There was no pico or cilantro to be found, and the shrimp were bland with no evidence of being marinated in any citrus, much less being diced and mixed with the onions, tomatoes and jalapeños like a normal ceviche.
The best tacos from the regular menu were the Chicken Tinga. They were loaded with tender, juicy pieces of chipotle-braised breast meat and had a robust roasted red pepper salsa that gave it just enough heat, and the avocado, tomato and queso fresco were perfectly proportioned.
I also loved the Korean Pork Sliders, which didn't really fit the theme but suited my appetite. The tender marinated meat packed a lot of flavor and was slow-cooked until it shredded a little. The quick kimchi slaw was suitable, the rolls were soft and fresh, and I gobbled them down quickly.
I was not as eager to finish my Mexican Caesar Salad, to which I added steak. The meat, again, was nice, but the dish was simply boring. It was a good representation of a classic Caesar, with just romaine, dressing, cotija cheese, tortilla strips and toasted pumpkin seeds, but it offered very little Mexican flavor, and the seeds and strips were not abundant enough to add enough crunch. It had potential, and I think some black beans and/or corn might have taken it to acceptable levels.
The sweet treats at Solbird were also acceptable but not enticing enough to have again.
The Churro Waffle's chocolate ganache was tasty, there was cinnamon and sugar on it, but it was basically a regular waffle. Had I not seen churro in the name, I would have never associated it with a churro in terms of texture.
The Tres Leches Donut courtesy of Hetty Arts Pastry at brunch was better, but it, too, was not dazzling. The best part was the big dollop of homemade whipped cream on top. The doughnut tasted fine but did not make me think of tres leches cake – my favorite Mexican dessert – because it was not soaked in milk.
The service at Solbird was OK when it was slow, but lagged significantly when the crowd filled the place up during brunch. The atmosphere was a plus, as its layout creates a relaxed bar-like mood that is perfect for a brewery.
Restaurant: Solbird Kitchen and Tap
Address: 1824 W. Dupont Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-friendly: No; 21 and older only
Menu: Ceviche ($9), sliders ($9), Caesar ($4 half; $6 full; $4 for chicken, $5 for steak/shrimp), Tinga tacos (2 for $8; 3 for $11), avocado toast ($6), burrito ($11), chilaquiles ($11), breakfast tacos (2 for $8), waffle ($4), doughnuts ($4)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five