2South occupies a beautiful, restored Victorian building on the west side, with a big front patio featuring an outdoor fireplace that laces the cool fall air with wood smoke. Inside, among several rooms and two levels, you find warmly stained woods with earthy-teal paint on the walls. The tables sit under brown butcher paper that you can decorate with colored pencils, while modern metal and glass touches throughout make the whole thing feel kind of like the queen herself went a little (steam)punk.
And there's cool stuff everywhere: single, exposed lightbulbs hanging over a bar of wine boxes and bottle-bottoms topped with glass; a candelabra-like chandelier hanging down amid black-and-white pictures of the restaurant, and windows lined with colorful stained-glass squares; and, most importantly, a unique Pod Bar wine-preservation system that should help 2South, and its owners Rod and Amy Quass, do for wine on the west side what Motif has done for cocktails.
We drank glasses of a 2010 Pinot Noir ($7) from Parducci Wines in Mendocino County, and a 2010 Pinot Gris ($5) from Oregon's King Estate Winery. The Noir came off pretty flat and boring, but the Gris, called Acrobat, was a winner: crisp and citrusy with a lively-as-hell body (not to mention 89 points from Wine Spectator).
Those two lead off a list spanning some 60 wines, many by the glass, complemented by four tap beers from Trinity Brewing Co. and Deschutes Brewery — so, dedicated drinkers will do very well here. But those concerned with the food, which comes from former Briarhurst Manor chef Tyler Peoples, will find it uneven for now.
The worst offender was the fried chicken ($13). Sourced from Red Bird Farms, the two drumsticks were first marinated in a tenderizing buttermilk solution that did its job too well — this was some mushy meat. The golden brown crust made of Rice Krispies was beautiful, but you could have broken through its crackling softness with a spoon. Great spiced sweet-potato mash, though.
Elsewhere, a warm and creamy bowl of pale-orange tomato bisque ($6) flashed sparks of star anise and cinnamon, perfect for the cold night. A tangy piece of homemade apple pie tried the same trick, but mostly failed due to its thin and cool, if delicious, countenance. For its part, the pot roast ($15) sounded more interesting on the menu — "braised short rib, cabernet pan jus reduction, scalloped potato" — than the solidly cooked bowl of meat and vegetables that arrived.
Lunch brought more of a struggle.
The Far East Fries ($5) were ostensibly tossed with sesame seeds, ginger, coriander and chili powder, but all that came through was cooked potato, while the included lemon aioli showed off only the fruit's bitter aspects. A BLT ($10) was good, but the thin toast got soaked with tomato juices, and a grilled chicken sandwich ($10) sported a nice char but not much else flavor-wise. The Burger ($10) boasted juicy meat from Ranch Foods Direct and great house spicy pickles, but was overly sour with the mustard and house ketchup, and the bun fell to wet shreds.
Two foods offered hope for more consistent days, though: a brilliantly airy moscato-and-ginger mousse ($5), which came paired with French press coffee ($3.50) from Colorado Coffee Merchants, and the charcuterie plate ($12). Though the latter was a little thin on meat — sporting only some deliciously mild, house-made bacon, and smoky (but pulpous) house sausage — it spoke of a culinary talent that might someday make all compasses point South.