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Review: The Peasantry

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jun 15, 2012 4:00PM

The baby octopus gyro at The Peasantry
These days, it's not enough to buy some farmstead tables and hang up a chalkboard. Restaurants that want to project an interesting, informal vibe have to go further to set themselves apart from the hordes of decent, mid-priced, farm-to-table restaurants that all serve a few offal dishes that might have been shocking 10 years ago. The Peasantry manages, but just barely. Luckily, the food is so good (and the price is so right) that I'm going to remember it fondly despite the generic concept. Even with the rose-colored glasses of anachronistic hindsight, peasants never ate this well.

A new restaurant from Franks 'N Dawgs owner Alexander Brunacci, Peasantry claims to serve "Elevated Street Food" (whatever that means) including burgers, gyros, flatbreads and Brunacci's famous sausages. It's definitely a menu for adventurous eaters; the burger has bone marrow, the pasta has rabbit and the french fries are coated in truffles. Speaking of the fries ($6), though they might destroy your ability to taste truffle for a month, they're worth an order. Coated with three different truffle-delivery systems (butter, salt and oil) these yukon gold waffle fries take truffled snack food to a new level. Just be sure to share them.

The gyros at The Peasantry threaten to revive a constant debate - does the name refer to the meat, or to any sandwich wrapped in pita? If the former, The Peasantry is committing blatant heresy, but your mouth will be too full to notice. The baby octopus gyro ($11) is filled with big hunks of perfectly-cooked octopus, accompanied by chorizo and fingerling potatoes. The real surprise is the grape gremolata, which adds a whammy of sweetness that brings the dish together. Plus, you can look at the giant, menacing octopus painted on the wall while you chew. Just try not to have visions of momma octopus coming for you in the night for your crimes against her children.

If you're not a seafood lover, order the chicken and corn pancake gyro ($11). Fried chocolate chili chicken sits atop a corn pancake packed with whole kernels of sweet corn. The burgers at The Peasantry are also surprisingly worthwhile, especially for a neighborhood filled with high-end burgers. The lamb burger ($12), a concept i've seen fall completely flat at least four times this year, is juicy and flavorful, topped with red onions and an olive aoili. And don't you dare skip the sausages. If you want something lighter, the shaved brussels sprout salad tossed with dill, lemon and pistachios is a perfect way to cut the fat.

Unfortunately, an entire section of this otherwise great menu is a total bust. Anytime I see "flatbread" on a menu, I wince in anticipation. Flatbread is code for "we don't really make pizza at this restaurant, but here it is anyway!" My dining companion described the beet flatbread as "beets atop burnt toast" and after one bite, I've sworn off flatbreads yet again.

Service was still a bit spotty, and there are some kinks in the concept that remain to be worked out. The oh-so-trendy draught list is only available on a chalkboard behind the bar. Unfortunately, said chalkboard is visible from less than half the tables in the restaurant and the servers don't have the list at hand, so you end up playing a complicated game of telephone, sending runners back and forth to read the list and try to recall their findings to the rest of your party. A service area in the back is totally open to public viewing; there's a doorway, but no curtain or shutters, which means that everyone in the restaurant can watch. Not in the charming, open-kitchen sort of way, but in the "oh look, there are some discarded tables and a cooler sitting on the floor" sort of way. Blech.

Here's the thing - I don't really care that much. The food highs are high enough that you will feel very forgiving by the end of your meal, and you'll be even more inclined to be gracious when you get the unbelievably small bill.

The Peasantry is located at 2723 N. Clark Street.