Sometimes, a restaurant comes along at just the right time and fills a void in the local scene. And the people rejoice.
Such is the case with Local Republic. This Southern/international gastropub opened in the historic Lawrenceville square a year ago, and judging by the overwhelmingly positive crowd-sourced reviews online, it couldn’t have come soon enough.
After spending years in IT, owner Ben Bailey fled the rat race to pursue his passion for food. For generations, his family had always run a business of some kind on the square, so it seemed the natural choice for his new venture. But more importantly, Lawrenceville residents looking for a solid selection of craft beers and a memorable plate of food had few options, and Bailey sought to change that.
At first glance, Local Republic looks like it belongs in Decatur instead of the heart of Gwinnett. The small space has the feel of a semi-industrial loft, scattered with chrome-legged chairs across a painted cement floor. A short, but clearly well-thought-out, list of craft beers hangs on a chalkboard above the dining room.
Bailey’s family recipes served as the base for the majority of the menu until a recent overhaul this spring, giving chef Scott Smith a chance to add some of his own creations. Most of the additions are found in the small plates, such as the rich pan-fried chicken livers swimming in tomato jam and thick chunks of bacon ($7). While some of the crunch on the livers is lost to the sauce, the sweet and savory jam trumps texture with flavor.
Among the holdovers from the old menu are bites of toasted bread topped with pimento cheese, bacon and jalapeno ($6), and they make for a great appetizer to share with the table. A trio of crawfish sliders ($9) arrives dressed simply with a sweet and spicy sauce. The buns are slightly too thick for my liking, but pick a few pieces off and you’re better able to appreciate the fresh and well-seasoned crawfish cake underneath.
Though Local Republic didn’t begin with an extensive burger menu when it first opened, its selection has swelled in the past year. Credit for their popularity surely lies in the smartly sourced thick Brasstown Beef patties and some creative topping combos.
I see the Patrick Swayze ($12), and I’m immediately intrigued. But once I read the paragraph-long disclaimer that comes with it, I’m downright determined. Topped simply with provolone cheese and “Ghost” pepper salsa, this burger packs a wallop. With phrases such as “no refunds due to wimpiness” and “go big” in the description, I had to see if I was up to the task.
Were I a prideful man, I would now tell you how I casually finished my burger, dabbed a few droplets of sweat from my brow, and went on my merry way. But I’m neither proud nor dishonest. For the sake of brevity, I’ll summarize my battle with Swayze: I had to ask my wife to drive us home.
This burger absolutely put me in the corner.
But if you are among the brave or desensitized few that can handle the intense heat of the “Ghost” chili, there is good news — among the onslaught of capsaicin is a lot of flavor. The sadistic salsa is more than just pain, and the flavor of the beef isn’t smothered. But be warned, it isn’t for the faint of palate.
Saner burger fans should try the Bruiser ($11) instead. A take on the traditional black and blue, the Cajun-spiced patty comes topped with English Stilton and bacon. Or put your taste buds in the chef’s hands and see if you can manage the overloaded Sink burger ($13). The menu lists only cheddar, bacon, egg and jalapeno as toppings, plus “whatever the kitchen wants to throw on.” The toppings vary depending on who is in the kitchen and their mood. In my case, that included sprouts, pickles, red onion, tomatoes and a nice base layer of kimchee. The punch of sour from the fermented cabbage gives my busy burger a refreshing bite.
I’m both encouraged and concerned when our order of Mussels al Diablo ($9) arrives in a half portion, the last of the shellfish for the night. While the spicy tomato and white wine sauce is flavorful, and worth a side of bread with which to sop it up, our mussels were far too fishy to ignore. It is possible we were unlucky and simply had the bottom of the barrel, in which case suggesting an alternative would have been preferable to serving us the dregs.
Ultimately, Local Republic brings a style of dining — casual, but with a focus on ambitious flavors and good drink — that Lawrenceville has lacked for quite some time. Judging by the crowds, the word is already out, but if you live in the area, you certainly should check it out.Local Republic 225 W. Crogan St., Lawrenceville. 678-205-4782 Food: Southern and international inspired pub grub Service: Friendly and adequate Best dishes: The Sink and the Patrick Swayze Vegetarian selections: Multiple salads, sides and a portobello sandwich Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, closed Sundays Children: Fine if well-behaved, but it is a gastropub. Parking: Tight, but there is a small dedicated lot behind the restaurant. Reservations: No Wheelchair access: Yes Smoking: No Noise level: Moderate to loud Patio: Yes Takeout: Yes