Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Federal...All About the Sides

I've noted the hype about the Federal gastropub off Main street in the heart of downtown Durham, and perhaps I went in with overly high expectations.  Some friends and I hit up the restaurant before a film festival over at Carolina Theatre. We were ushered into the backroom, where the first thing we noticed was how dark in was. As in too dark to read your menu kind of dark.  Whatever though, it irritated my dining companions more than myself.  The noise level back there was considerably more bothersome.  No doubt the small size of the room greatly amplified the sound of the large party sitting near us.  Once again, if the food is good enough, not a deal breaker for me.  I was advised by the waitress to order one of the daily changing specials.  I picked out the half rack of barbecue ribs, collard greens and fries.  My burgerphile friend ordered the burger au poivre reputed to be better than the Bullcity burgers he loves, and my other friend ordered a chicken panini with fontina, bacon and basil aioli on grilled sourdough. 

The chicken panini seemed to be the best pick of the three, no complaints. (My ever patient friends must get so tired of me insisting on trying their food...)

I love steak au poivre, so I had high hopes for my friend's order (I had been torn on the idea of ordering it myself.) The burger au poivre was well seasoned, but so heavily blackened and overcooked (not nearly the requested medium) that it reached a hockey puck like consistency. The kaiser roll it was served on and accompanying accoutrement would have helped to build a great burger had it not been drastically overcooked. The garlic "Fed fries" were exceptional.  They were hand cut and double fried for the perfect crisp, and perfectly garlicky.

The ribs were a let down.  They were tender enough, but the copious amounts of the Fed's homemade take on barbecue sauce was overwhelming in a not entirely pleasant way.  They were actually very reminiscent of when my college cafeteria used to attempt to make barbecue ribs, and that is certainly not a complement.   Fortunately, the unfortunate entree was accompanied by some lipsmackingly fantastic collard greens complimented with bacon, brown sugar and vinegar.  I also enjoyed my own side of the fabulous Fed fries.

Ultimately, the Fed isn't a total pass, there are some great things there (read: garlic fries and collard greens), but definitely some misses as well. The prices range from $8 to $18 with plenty of options under $10 to suit the needs of an underfinanced foodie and is generally better than your average bar food.

Burger Au Poivre and Fed Fries

Barbecue ribs, collard greens and Fed Fries

Federal on Urbanspoon

Chicken Panini and Side Salad

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