- Matthew Schniper
- Maybe you’ll want to stick to a couple of craft pints here.
I’m sitting in the bustling Purple Toad Social Tap & Grill on a recent Friday, hoping for a good menu sampling. Huge televisions surrounding the dining room broadcast several sports events, and I admire the swank-for-a-sports-bar decor of shiny lacquered woods and metal HVAC segments reflecting the cool purple glow of neon beer signs and LED-lit bar shelves. Most impressively, a giant statue, almost like a Mardi Gras parade float, of a purple toad wearing a crown and bearing two frothy beer mugs, holds court near the bar.
It doesn’t matter that six guitars hung over a window to the kitchen feel out of place, as if to please-all plead, “hey, despite the plasma TV assault, we’re also a rock ’n’ roll bar!” After all, “this is ’Merica” reminds a giant tacked-up flag, reinforced by wholesome, blaring Hootie & the Blowfish music.
All this is to say that if you love The Cow Pub & Grill — mascot a buxom, angel-winged bovine — another Schafer family drink spot/eatery on Powers Boulevard, you’ll love Purple Toad. Chuck Schafer (his brother and co-owner here is Heath Schafer) is also vested in Prime 25 with his aunt and uncle Kathy and Sam Guadagnoli, known for their empire of downtown nightclubs.
Our grievance is we experienced a lackluster launch at The Cow when it opened six years ago, and only marginally better food during repeat visits. Our optimism for Purple Toad came out of chats with Chuck earlier this year, when he talked of it not being a “typical sports bar.” The website cites a “chef-driven menu.” But this just isn’t reflected in our experience.
Though it’s great everything’s affordable — $5 to $7 for our cocktails, $8 to $9 for our apps, $12.50 to $14 for our entrées — we still want it to be enjoyable. We discern no hooch in a Cherry Vanilla Smash, only what tastes like Cherry Coke. A jalapeño-pineapple margarita again lacks booze balance, tasting only of pineapple juice with a mild throat bite. These are drinks for people who like the alcohol hidden.
A plate of frog legs are fried nicely but aren’t spicy as described, nor does a Creole honey mustard taste much different than basic stone-ground as a dip. So, it tastes a bit like chicken dipped in mustard — yawn. A crunchy flatbread with “caramelized peaches” (not so much, feeling more like basic, canned peach segments, warmed) and a sprinkling of cotija cheese suffers most from under-seasoned pulled pork with an unpleasant aroma and bland stew-meat taste.
Enter a bone-in pork chop, flavored nothing like a promised maple glazing, cooked dry and tough (needs brining, seasoning), plated with basic mashed potatoes and sad, wrinkly, rubbery green beans. It channels a TV dinner. The buffalo for my slopper is killed twice, the second time by our medium well request ignored. It’s therefore overly dry, tasting like char; not the grill-top edge-searing accenting kind, but the briquette. The green chile’s the starchy, gooey kind, far from exemplary, and a wad of sour cream and jalapeño slivers feel displaced from nachos.
Sweet relief: a cinnamon-rich, granular-sweet apple crisp à la mode totally works. We decline a Halloween shooters offer (so it’s that kind of party). I think of the fairy-tale toad character, and how many kisses it will take to transform this one into a handsome prince on the dining scene.