In our continuing exploration of the burgeoning restaurant scene in downtown Allentown, we have popped into The Hamilton a couple of times for drinks–but have never stopped to eat there. This time, we decided we would go for it and try a few things. We happened to be there at the tail end of happy hour, which was pretty fortunate. I had seen a bubbling dish of mac and cheese on some lucky lady’s table the last time we were there and I coveted it. I coveted it hard. But it was a reallllly big dish of cheesy goodness. Happy hour, however, is a magical time- it runs Monday-Friday from 4:30-6:30 pm and on Sunday from noon- 4 pm. During this marvelous window, you can order their $5 portion of mac and cheese, which is a perfectly sized side dish. We split it and still had some left over. The usual large portion is always available for $14. This day,in addition to the $5 mac and cheese, we opted for some of the creative items on the standard, non-happy hour menu. I started with a bourbon drink with fresh muddled peaches. We also split their burger ($17) and the grilled octopus ($16). OH- and I can NOT forget: popovers. Instead of your standard run-of-the-mill bread, they give you airy, buttery, rich, delicious popovers. So friggin good.
Ok- back to the other stuff….where to start? Let’s begin with environment. The overall feel inside the restaurant is classy and trendy, but also slightly casual and accessible. It was just warm enough to be outside, so we opted for a high-top on the patio. There’s a cool outdoor bar and you can’t beat the people watching from out there 😉 Once seated, we ordered and received our drinks promptly. The number of service staff was astounding. There were people in Hamilton polos everywhere. We did lose our server for a while right when it started to get crowded, but other than that minor deviation, she was chipper and attentive. My drink had bourbon and fresh muddled chunks of peaches. It. was. delicious.
The mac and cheese was delivered first (by request). By now, you probably know how I feel about my mac and cheese. This little cast iron skillet held everything I had hoped for. It was gooey, the pasta was perfectly al dente, and the sauce completely enrobed the pasta. There were crunchy breadcrumbs on top that provided a nice textural contrast. If I had to give one criticism, there was perhaps a bit too much breadcrumb, but that’s the worst thing I can say about it. Now, T thinks that Panera has the best mac and cheese. And I actually won’t argue- while Panera is no Hamilton, their cheese sauce is ridic (yeah, ridic). But the Hamilton made me happy in ma belly and my mouth, so I’m calling it a win.
The octopus and burger came next. I am a huge fan of octopus and tend to judge it a bit critically- my dad and I are the only two in the family that share an affinity for octopus, thus it holds a special place in my heart. Fortunately, the Hamilton did not disappoint. Whereas many places (e.g. TheMint) end up with a rubbery lump of tentacled flesh, this meat was tender with a beautiful char. It was served with an arugula, caper, and preserved lemon salad, as well as fingerling potatoes served over harissa. I will say that I liked the harissa, but the amount on the plate was a bit much. The sauce was quite forward and overwhelmed the octopus a bit unless you just took a small bit. The large portion of sauce aside, the plate was really well balanced- the acidic salad and starchy potatoes with the spicy sauce all worked incredibly well with the tender octopus. Nothing on that plate was superfluous or out of place.
Finally, we dug into the burger.The burger patty itself was a bit too greasy for me, but it was also juicy and flavorful. It was the slightest bit smoky and had a great char and crispy crust. The bacon was thick and had that fatty, crispy texture that I love. The mushrooms were beautifully cooked- textbook browning, crispy and earthy. There was a “secret sauce” on there that likely would have made the burger even better, but there was only a smidge-I really wish there had been more. We actually opted to eat them without the LTO because the other toppings looked so great, but I added on the tomato after a couple of bites because there wasn’t enough of the sauce. The cheese was great for its gooeyness, but didn’t really have a lot of flavor. A hit of caramelized onion would have put this sandwich over the top for me. The bun was good- soft but chewy, good and stable. There was also a good amount of the spicy and sweet house-made pickles, which always makes me happy. Finally, I have to mention these fries. They were amazing. When we looked at them, it
looked like they were caked- just full on caked- with salt. But then we tried them and they were perfect. I don’t like overly salted fries, and, although they looked like they had taken a salt bath, these were perfect. We asked our server if we could find out how they were prepared, if they were maybe double-fried or even lightly battered, but unfortunately she didn’t have an answer and never went looking for one.
Overall, I enjoyed the Hamilton- I thought our dishes were good, the environment was very enjoyable, and the drinks were great. Once we work our way through some more of the local fare, we definitely plan to return and try more dishes.
**Update: We decided to re-visit the Hamilton for NYE. They had a $68/person prix fixe menu. Between the 8 of us, we tried pretty much everything on the menu. I won’t lie, I was prepared to be disappointed, anticipating the rushed, assembly-line quality you often get with this type of menu (think restaurant week…) However- I was quite pleasantly surprised! I started with the Hiramasa crudo- the fish was cool, tasted clean, and melted in my mouth. Dressed with lime, radish, and mint, it was a perfect fresh start to the meal. I chose the rack of lamb as my entree- the lamb itself was cooked to perfection, perhaps one of the best-cooked racks I’ve ever had. Sadly, the sides left a bit to be desired. It came with cranberry beans and braised swiss chard. There is nothing negative to say about the sides, but there is also nothing positive- they were just…there. I finished with the chocolate financier- basically a fancy sponge cake. And it was delicious. It was fluffy, light, chocolatey, and *not* overly sweet. It was topped with an herb whipped cream- I could see some herbs in the cream, but it didn’t taste savory- I think it might have been licorice-flavored tarragon, but I can’t be sure. There were also some bits of tasty brittle sprinkled on top. I finished the whole damn thing.
Some of the other things people had at the table:
- Steak tartare. Sadly, not good. The meat was tough, underseasoned, and in need of acid. It also didn’t have an egg yolk on top. The menu listing said it had egg, so we assumed it was pre-mixed in, which just made us sad.
- Oysters with shallot mignonette and the $5 caviar add-on. Ok, not super remarkable, oysters were fairly small.
- Prime rib entree- nice portion, cooked to a good medium rare. Came with a marrow butter- I’ve had marrow butters before and they’re usually a bit more flavorful, so this one was a bit disappointing. The side was a root veggie gratin, which was not great. The veggies were undercooked, which is often the danger with a gratin… and the creamy goodness you expect from a nice gratin was unfortunately pretty nonexistent.
- Crab cake. More like Awesome cake. It was ordered as a $10 add-on with the prime rib. This baby was pure crab, and the outside had a perfectly crispy crust. Would have been great with some type of remoulade, but I won’t hold it against them.
- Panna cotta- this was the big hit of the table. Perfect texture, dots of vanilla bean, pomegranate seeds, and a tart blackberry coulis.
- Oh! We also had various cocktails and I had their delicious Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrel Ale. Yum. The drinks never disappoint.
Final conclusion- Same as I had before NYE. A majority of the food is interesting and nicely executed. A few missteps here and there, but nothing that would dissuade me from returning. Service was pretty good as well, considering the NYE business. The scores remain the same as well:
Food & Drinks: 17/20