Grain is the newest project of the Bethlehem Bayou boys in the up-and-coming downtown Allentown area. Being a huge fan of Bayou, we have been excited to try Grain ever since we first heard of its development. We made it out about two weeks after they opened. Upon entering the building, I was both pleased…and a bit confused. For a second, I thought I was walking into Roar- the basic design and layout are very similar: long, narrow, exposed brick, staircase leading to an upper floor. The overall look is very industrial-chic, one of my favorite pieces is the rustic metal ceiling fan over the entrance. The wood tables are beautiful, the lighting is mellow, and the vibe is classy but laid-back- very relaxing after a long day of work. Since our visit, we have realized that this is the general decor/style of most of the single-word moniker restaurants in the Hamilton district.
One of the Grain guys’ philosophies is that no plate should be over $19. This is meant to encourage ordering a number of plates to try and share with others. I think this is a great idea, considering that this aligns perfectly with our eating philosophy 😉 We ordered a number of small plates, a couple of drinks, and one of their decadent desserts (spoiler alert: they lit it on fire!).
To start with the drink, I had the Big Apple- a very delightful bourbon drink. It was boozy, with a caramelly bourbon flavor, and sweet (but not too sweet) apple cider. We then ordered 5 small plates- to jump ahead a bit, one issue I
had with this system was that they didn’t stagger the plates as much as I would have liked. Everything came out back to back so that we had a table full of plates.If you’re going to encourage the ordering of many dishes, it would be nice if customers could fit those plates on their table… I will, however, note that our server was excellent. She was attentive, but not overly so, and very knowledgeable and friendly.
My favorite dish was the crispy chicken wings with white BBQ sauce over a carrot salad with scallions and green onions ($10). Many times, wings that are promised to be crispy are anything but (*cough* BAM *cough*). But not at Grain! The wings were crispy as promised, fatty, and flavorful with a slight hit of spice. The salad underneath was surprisingly good- usually those types of accompaniments are a throwaway. Instead it was tangy and acidic, providing a really nice counterpoint to the fatty crunchy wings. I would say my second favorite was probably the lamb “tacos” with spicy lamb, pomegranate, marinated cucumber, shaved fennel, and mint ($9). I have the quotations around “tacos” because I don’t think they could really be dubbed tacos. They were in a flour tortilla,but the tortilla tasted like something I pulled out of a package at home and overheated. It really ate more like a wrap–in fact, they likely would taste great in a thinner shawarma-style wrap. The lamb was a sausage and had a great flavor. I’m a huge fan of lamb and this one did not disappoint. There was also a sauce not included in the description, it was like a tzatziki and added a great creamy coolness. I could have done without the pomegranate seeds- they didn’t really add much and were a bit of an annoyance. They were also quite greasy, which was unfortunate.
We also ordered the seared tuna- it came with watermelon salad, avocado mousse, sambal, black sesame, and roasted tomato ($13). The tuna had a nice crust and melted in my mouth. The sambal is presented as a swipe of chili sauce on the front of the plate- be warned, this stuff is potent! But fortunately, you have the watermelon, avocado, and lightly roasted tomatoes to cool you off. The avocado cream was velvety and limey and nicely balanced the sweetness of the watermelon and tomatoes.
Our fourth plate was the broccoli rabe ($6). T is a big fan of the stuff, and this one was cooked with Meyer lemon, garlic, red chili, and shallots. For me, the best broccoli rabe is the kind that has been tamed, with just a hint of bitterness at the end. Unfortunately, this one was
bitter the whole way through. Surprisingly so, actually, making this the most disappointing of our dishes. The final savory dish we went with was the house burger ($10). It came with grilled onion, spicy pickles, baby arugula, smoked provolone, fried egg, and house bacon. I will say, when it came out, it looked awfully pretty. There was a bea-uti-fully cooked egg on top with a golden yolk and a crispy white. Unfortunately, the burger itself was a bit of a letdown, mainly because of the cook temp. It had a great grill flavor and crust, but it was very dry and overcooked. We did notice on our bill that for some reason they automatically put the order in for medium well… we were never asked how we wanted it cooked, but I have never seen anyone default to anything but medium… Regarding toppings, this was also a mixed bag. The smoked provolone sounded great, but actually overwhelmed the other flavors for me. When I got a bite with a good amount of cheese, it was suddenly all I could taste. The bacon was firm, not floppy (T and I do hate a floppy bacon…), but I also wouldn’t call it “crispy.”It may have just been a leaner cut of bacon- it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t give me that fatty, crispy bite that I like in my burger bacon.
The arugula was ok, didn’t add much. The house pickles and the thinly sliced onion saved the whole burger. They added a brightness and acidity that was much needed, especially with such dry meat. Overall, I was left with the feeling that they felt they should add a burger to their menu, and they did, with what they felt were cool toppings… but then they kinda let the execution fall to the wayside.Truth is, you can screw up a burger. And this one was pretty disappointing. Not as disappointing as what happened at the Trapp Door, but pretty close.
To wrap up the meal, we decided to have a little sweet. We very rarely eat dessert out because we overeat the savory dishes… but this time, I felt like I had just enough room, so we opted for a delicious-sounding banana pudding dish. It came in a mason jar, and was flambeed at the table. It was decadent, but also light at the same time. I don’t like cloyingly sweet desserts, and this dish fit the bill perfectly. I was very pleased, and the only disappointment was that we didn’t have the stomach capacity to finish the whole jar.
Overall, while the space and experience of Grain were on-point, I would say that I was a bit underwhelmed by the food. The wings and the banana pudding are the only dishes I can say that I would want to return for. However, it had only been open less than two weeks when we first ventured out. I love Bayou, so I have faith (and hope) that Grain will iron out the wrinkles and reach the same level of culinary success.
Food & Drink: 15/20