When a place calls itself the Pelican House Tap Room and Whiskey Bar, that’s probably a subtle hint that food is not the foremost consideration. Not that bar food can’t be worthwhile.
In the case of Pelican House, the Citiplace establishment located where some folks remember was Romano’s Macaroni Grill, the sandwiches are pretty darned good. Most of the rest of what we sampled, not so much.
The menu is limited: one soup, five appetizers, three salads (available only at lunch, as we discovered on a dinner visit), five entrees and three side orders, plus accents like specialty cheeses and pork belly bacon strips that can be added for a small charge. Several of the items have an interesting twist.
Case in point: the turkey and pork belly club ($9.50), which features brined turkey breast and pork and pralines. We’ve never had pralines on a sandwich. We’ve never imagined pralines on a sandwich. But this one has them, and the sweetness — which comes in bursts of varying intensity, depending on the bite — really works with the meats, tomato, lettuce and onion in a way we can’t really explain. Try it. The soft sourdough bun is a winner, too.
Likewise, the bun — soft, yielding to the bite — works well with the basil chicken on sourdough ($9). Accenting the plump, juicy chicken are tomato, red onion, arugula and garlic mayonnaise, a satisfying combination.
The Pelican House burger ($11) is advertised as four cuts of beef ground in house. It would take far more sophisticated sensors than we have to determine if that is true, but the burger is thick and juicy, and we liked the brioche bun, too.
It’s worth noting that none of these sandwiches comes with anything on the side, so they’re a bit pricey. The fries ($3) are quite good — somewhere between crisp and limp, salted and peppered, not terribly greasy — and two orders were enough for our party of four.
The New Orleans City shrimp appetizer ($10.50) offers five plump shrimp tails in an herbed bourbon sauce with what appeared to be a sliced, toasted sourdough roll, presumably for dipping in the leftover sauce. The flavor was good, but whereas some restaurant’s appetizers are enough for a light meal, such was not the case here.
The seafood entree, crab and crawfish au gratin ($13.50), included lumps of blue crab and crawfish in a mornay sauce served in a small casserole dish with toasted sourdough bread on the side.
The entree was the consistency of soup — perhaps, best served with a soup or gumbo spoon rather than the dinner spoon we were offered. Mornay sauce, which is typically made from grated parmesan and Swiss cheese, can be a nice complement to seafood if done well, and this restaurant’s version was rich and flavorful. But the serving size was skimpy considering the price. We were still hungry after cleaning our plate.
The truffled mac and cheese ($9), which combines smoked gouda, mozzarella and cheddar, was bland. We could detect some of the smoked gouda, but there was none of the cheddar sharpness that can make macaroni satisfying. Pouring on some of the leftover shrimp appetizer sauce helped.
Though the place was quite busy on our dinner visit, the staff was attentive.
Pelican House is trying to be a lot of things. On the right side entering the door is the tap room, where 136 beers from around the world are on tap (plus many more in bottles). To the left is another bar featuring whiskeys and wines. To the back of the room are overstuffed couches, where patrons can take their drinks and converse, and in the middle are tables for those who wish to dine.
There are enough television screens for those who might want to follow a sporting event, but no so many that, like a sports bar, you can pretty much count on seeing the obscure game you’re interested in.