I’m at the Draft Horse’s bar counter, gazing fondly into half-empty skillet, when head chef Geoff King points at it and says, “That’s love, right there.”
He’d know: prior to this, I’d been talking with King and Draft Horse co-founder Luke Kyle about the dinners they had with their families growing up. The foodstuffs were different, but the dinners themselves were fundamentally similar: large families, at the table, eating together, no tellies or cell phones. For them, cooking with heart was the only way.
They worked their way up through the restaurant world, and opened the Horse a few months ago. Now, a hard stone’s throw from the Mississippi, visitors are feeling the love.
Take one bite of their chicken pot pie and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Basics: The Draft Horse joins the Lone Grazer cheese company, Red Table Meats, Beez Kneez Honey and 2Gingers Whiskey in the aptly-named Food Building. The Horse is the only restaurant at which you can eat on-site (I believe) but worry not: many of their menu items feature their neighbors’ wares. The Draft Horse website.
GARBAGE ONLY! NO COMPOST! reads a sticker on trash can lid in the bathroom. My question, of course, being “Who is trying to put compost in the men’s room trash?”
Outside the bathroom, and it’s very much alive at the Horse. On a busy night, you’ll be standing around in a crowd at the front while a table frees up; in the back, the lone booth wraps halfway round a small table. If you’re a party of six, or a party of two looking for some canoodling space, that’ll be a great booth for you. In-between, patrons mingle at the tables and the staff moves like a river between them.
The only nit I can pick off the Horse is the bar stool seats. They’re so small, my keester missed it completely when I sat down. Careful.
The menu switches up seasonally and features meat and/or cheese plates, soups, salads, big cuts, etc., but the pot pie is the hot ticket right now.
It was set before me, looking resplendent. Notice the roof on that thing. I was warned not to bite right away, lest I not scald the tip of my tongue. I gave it roughly two seconds, then dove.
As good as it looks, the crusts eats 100 times better: flaky, light, soft, I could hardly tell when I was biting it. The chicken was tender, plentiful, and came in big chunks. The vegetables were crunchy, with great color. The gravy, oh geez: thick, but not clumpy, with no outrageous flavors but just a hint sweetness on the back end.
At $12, I’d say it’s priced appropriately. It’s a compact Thanksgiving meal, a true throwback, executed so sprucely I didn’t dare taint the experience with Angry Birds or Facebook once I began. You wouldn’t do that at the dinner table with your family, either, now would you?
Even at night, when there’s a line out the door, you can have a pint in the corner and dial up a whiskey onion soup once you’re seated. Talk about warming your spirit on a cold, wet night. Try that once!
That’s the experience you can expect at the Draft Horse. You’re among strangers, but the food makes you feel right at home. It can unite your friends at the table, or it can lift that stupid world out of your mind.
That’s what love does.