Mayday, the storied Northside bar, jumped into the restaurant game last month when they hired Chef Julz Lucas and added a full menu of gourmand dishes to their stable of Senate-like hot dogs.
Since the neighborhood is bursting with new restaurants (e.g. Ruth’s Parkside Café, Django, Barrio), it was inevitable that Mayday, which opened in 2009, would also try their hand at adding more high-quality and seasonal foodstuffs to their existing offerings. And bringing on Lucas — a graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute who has experience at higher-end dining establishments like Honey, Mayberry and La Poste — is a step in the right direction for the venue that once was the dive bar The Gypsy Hut.
On a recent cold, Tuesday evening, the bar was half-full with pre-trivia night patrons slurping bowls of soup and sipping on beer and whiskey. Half-full because when the owners expanded the menu, they also expanded the seating: There are now several wooden tables near the band stage and additional seating outside, with a roaring fire pit. And instead of ordering hot dogs at the bar, as was the previous system, customers now take a seat and order from a waiter or waitress. Daily specials, including soups, salads, burgers and desserts — all made from scratch — are listed on a chalkboard.
The most expensive items on the menu are the $12 fancy charcuterie board (cured meats, cheeses, housemade pickles) and cassoulet, a hearty French stew made with meats and veggies. Have you ever been to a bar that’s served cassoulet? Didn’t think so.
The gastropub theme — good food plus good beer — extends into their draft and bottled beer selection, but for some reason they didn’t appear to have many local beers on draft. Instead, my dining partner and I opted for a bottle of New Holland’s The Poet oatmeal stout and an Otter Creek Kind Ryed IPA from Vermont and ordered more beer in the form of the beer cheese appetizer ($6.25).
The spreadable beer cheese was made with a Stone Brewing Co. porter and had a slight kick to it. Beer cheeses have a tendency to be runny, but this was more like a cheese ball. It wasn’t the best beer cheese I’ve ever had — that honor would go to Harvest in Louisville, Ky. — but it was good enough for us to not leave any beer cheese or pretzel bread behind.
Mayday has a slew of daily specials. That night, they offered a beet soup with rosemary cream swirled on top, a mac-and-cheese burger and a carrot and zucchini hash side. We tried a cup of the soup ($3.50), which was delicious. For entrées, my companion and I took a while to decide on what to get. The black bean burger sounded good, but so did the pulled pork sandwich, half roast chicken and all of their dogs. I veganized the El Ricardo dog ($9) — at least the wiener part — and my companion chose the crock of cassoulet.
Cassoulet is a stew that originated in the south of France and can be made with pork or richer meats like duck and goose. This version had braised pork, cannellini beans, tomatoes, carrots, a cracker crumble on top and it came with a slice of cornbread, making it seem more American South than French south. My dinner companion thought it was weird there were carrots and tomatoes in it and not more varieties of meat, but that didn’t deter him from eating it.
Back to their signature encased meats: Mayday has seven hot dogs on their menu and a monthly dog. What’s nice is that all of their dogs can be made with a vegan wiener for a $1 upcharge or a gourmet dog for $1.50 more. I’ll admit the vegan wiener was, um, a bit small, but the black bean salsa, pretzel roll and fried egg plopped on top made up for the lack of girth. To make my meal healthier, I traded chips for a side salad, which came with basil vinaigrette dressing.
We also ordered a side of oven fries ($2.25). These chunky, wedged fries are oven-baked — not fried — and come lightly seasoned with a tangy apricot curry dipping sauce. Oven fries are not only healthier than oil-based fries, but they actually taste better.
There were a couple of dessert options (cranberry pound cake with a bourbon sauce was tempting), but we decided it was time to detach the feedbag.
Mayday has accomplished what it set out to do: It’s a bona fide restaurant destination and not just a place for playing trivia while throwing a few beers back. It’ll be interesting to see if they expand their draft list, and if people will flock here to eat a full meal and not just a cup of soup or a starter. Either way, the gastropub upgrade should be a welcome addition for new and old patrons alike.
4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside
11:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11:00 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday; brunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday