There are honest waiters, there are fatally honest waiters, and then there’s the guy who asked if we wanted dessert at Goat Hollow.
“We have chocolate mousse, an apple crisp, bread pudding and crème brûlée,” he said on a busy Sunday night at Mount Airy’s fledgling brasserie.
“Oh!” one of us replied, face brightening. “What kind of bread pudding is it?” Because they’re always fancied up somehow these days, aren’t they? Chocolate brioche, banana bourbon, Nutella cinnamon challah … You never know how many adjectives a chef is going to try to cram in there.
Our man locked into eye contact. “Plain bread pudding,” he deadpanned.
We laughed. “You make it sound so tantalizing!”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think any of the desserts are where they ought to be,” he replied.
Not everything is at Goat Hollow, but that’s fine. This warm and unassuming spot has enough going for it to balance out its middling ambitions and occasional flops. After all, there’s a time for fennel-pollen mortadella and vinegar-shrub cocktails, and there’s a time for a solid bowl of mussels, a top-notch beer list, and a heaping $6 kid’s plate of orecchiette bolognese. Because above all, a neighborhood spot should know how to take care of the neighbors, and Neil Campbell’s second restaurant (after Old City’s Race Street Cafe) has the knack.
Chef Adam Glickman’s mussels are everything you’d expect from a man who spent nine years at Monk’s Café: plump, alcoholic and profusely seasoned. And these are all good things—especially in a version punctuated by what had to be a money-losing heap of house-cured tasso ham (which soaked up the shellfish liquor to become faintly reminiscent, not at all unpleasantly, of wet-smoked salmon). Glickman declined to rip off Monk’s bourbon mayo for his frites, but his own spicy rémoulade is a worthy approximation.
The rest of the food is hit-and-miss. Hickory and applewood perfumed a compelling cold-smoked rib eye, but the potato gratin on its (and other entrées’) side was grossly overdosed with cheese. Burgers had all the right components—short rib, filet tails, rib eye—but tended to be overcooked. Moist fried chicken, crusted with a batter that was more dry than crispy, was mostly remarkable for featuring a manly four pieces; portions here verge on the tremendous. But there were delightful surprises, too, like subtly gingered pickled pork belly pot stickers, and a gamy boar terrine with pistachios.
I found no good rule of thumb to guide anyone through Goat Hollow’s uneven terrain—but that’s nothing an honest waiter can’t fix. Ours proved valiant, delivering a just-passable apple crisp with an Everest of ice cream on the side that made it impossible not to smile.