“Chain” — To most self-proclaimed foodies out there, it is the dirtiest of words.
I’m occasionally guilty of such snobbery myself and nearly always opt for a mom-and-pop over anything with a corporate headquarters. But the reality is that some restaurants out there strike a successful balance between quality and quantity, and I’m not ashamed to say that a few chains claim spots on my regular rotation.
I recently set off to Dunwoody to see if The Firkin and Gryphon deserved one of those spots. Based in Canada, the Firkin family of pubs includes more than 30 locations in its home country and 11 in the states, three of which are in Georgia. With more than 180 additional locations in development, this chain likely is heading to a suburb near you.
Even though it prides itself on how each location is “unique to its neighborhood,” the sense that you have stepped into a cookie-cutter chain is overwhelming. Everything is slickly branded and overproduced, from the red velvet booths to the tongue-in-cheek signs reading, “Have a Firkin good time” or “Firkin hungry?” Though locally owned, little about this pub feels local.
It bills itself as an English-style pub, so I’m not surprised to find it serving the requisite Fish ‘n’ Chips ($9) and Cottage pie ($10).
Among the slim pickings on the menu’s “Pub Favorites” section, the monstrous Chicken Pot Pie ($10) stands out. All eyes quickly turn to the hubcap-sized flaky crust that hides steamy hunks of moist chicken stewed in rich gravy. This hearty dish would be a perfect comfort food remedy on a wintry night.
The recently overhauled menu rivals The Cheesecake Factory in its bizarre range of dishes. With the actual English fare accounting for less than 15 percent of the menu, the rest is a hodgepodge of mass appeal, ranging from pizza to barbecue. A jack-of-all-trades for sure, but a master of none.
Formerly the home of a Smokey Bones barbecue, the crew at Firkin and Gryphon inherited a pair of smokers in the kitchen. Unlike the other Firkin franchises, the Dunwoody location put the smokers to use and added a barbecue section to the menu, which immediately piqued my interest. Unfortunately, my pulled pork platter ($10) arrives wilted and mushy. Too many hours under the heat lamp robbed the bark of any texture, and the meat suffocates under a puddle of sickly sweet barbecue sauce.
The equipment isn’t completely squandered, though. Thanks to a trip through the smokers before taking a dip in the deep fryer, the crowd-pleasing World Famous Wings ($9) pack a powerful smoky punch. The Cajun wings quickly disappear from our table and remain my favorite dish offered.
A major change in the recent menu makeover is the relegation of pizza, pasta and burgers to the last page as a befuddling “do-it-yourself” section. Every ingredient in the kitchen is available as a topping, including every salad dressing, dip and sauce featured in any dish. This makes for some interesting possibilities — how often do you see pizza topped with tartar sauce and mint chutney? — but such an exhaustive list of nonsensical toppings makes the menu daunting.
However, after wading through the sea of options, I assemble a beast of a burger that I quite enjoyed. Topped with jack cheese, bacon, samba mayo, pork jus and a fried egg ($8), I happily devour this heart-attack-on-a-plate, despite battling with a quickly dissolving bun.
Sadly, for every hit on the menu, there are two misses. Although the Braised Pork Belly appetizer ($9) — a generous hunk of pork in a stew of cannellini beans, spinach and charred tomato vinaigrette — catches me off guard with the fork-tender meat and rich broth, the sausage coating around the Classic Scotch Eggs ($7) lacks any discernible flavor. Another out-of-place new addition, the Shrimp and Grits ($15), offers criminally overcooked shrimp that render the dish inedible.
If the happy-hour crowd gathered around the bar on a Thursday night is any indication, the beer remains the biggest draw here. Its selection of more than 30 draft beers is impressive, though publishing prices on the beer list is a simple and overdue improvement that the management should consider.
With a few exceptions, the food at Firkin and Gryphon, like the ambiance, feels and tastes mass-produced, the hallmark of any scorn-worthy chain. Come for happy hour and enjoy a few drinks, but wrangle up your designated driver by dinnertime.