A few weeks ago I realized that, outside of a preview, I’ve never actually written about Senate. Sure, I go there all of the time (which should tell you something– I really do like it) but I haven’t given it an official “write-up”. I’m fixing that today.
Senate is probably my favorite of the new restaurants downtown. Sure, it’s super convenient to me, but I also like the vibe and the creative menu. Instead of a review based on one or two visits, this is based on cumulative experiences.
First, Senate is known for a couple of things: a very narrow space and hot dogs. They’ve been both lauded and criticized for both. It can be difficult to get a table (the space seats only about 25 or so), and navigating to the bathroom can be a bit close, but it does make the bar area quite a meeting place– you can’t help but talk with your neighbor, and I’ve met up with old friends (and made new ones) just by sitting at the bar.
As far as the hot dogs, they’re good– Giminetti bakery buns, fresh-made sausages– and they’re creative. My favorite is the old stand-by, Trailer Trash, which involves bacon, cheese, and barbecue Grippos, but each day they feature a new hot dog, usually named after some celebrity (whether national, like the Brock Lesner, which was chicken sausage, bourbon-peach BBQ sauce, shaved red onions, arugula & bacon vinaigrette, or local, like vegan and Park + Vine owner Dan Korman, which involves a bean hot dog, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and goat cheese). They’re fun and inventive, and generally priced between $9-10. To be honest, I’d like to see the price drop by about a dollar, but until their business slows down (it appears packed each night they’re open), I doubt that will happen. They are worth it. (The Korean hot dog pictured was made gluten free- removing the bun– for my friend Erin).
As hyped as the hot dogs are, they’re not the stars of the show– as creative as they may be. I find myself drawn to other items on the menu. A favorite, particularly to share, and particularly when I don’t care about calories, is their version of poutine, made with their truffle fries, local cheese curds, and gravy. They’re absolutely addictive. Their fries come in two varieties: truffle ($5),
which are rich with thyme and truffle oil and served with a slightly spicy aioli, and duck fat fries ($6), which are also great. I actually prefer the truffle fries (I’m a sucker for truffle anything) but both are very good choices.
I spent several summer evenings at the bar, eating their roasted peach salad– a nice vinagrette, great goat cheese, and roasted peaches; occasionally I paired it with soup, including a really fabulous mushroom soup I wish they’d add to the menu on a more permanent basis.
Other favorites– particularly late in the evening– include the burger (my favorite part of the burger is the caramelized onion; it’s definitely in my top ten burger list in the city) and the Lobster BLT (can it be bad if it involves lobster AND bacon?).
We have, on occasion, indulged in dessert– the “pretzel beignets”, served warm and in a paper bag, shaken with sugar and cinnamon. They’re very good, but I actually prefer to eat a little more poutine, and a little less dessert.
They have cocktails, beer and wine. I usually end up with a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Cocktails are in the $9 range, wine by the glass between $7-12, and draft beer between $6-8. I think the cocktail and beer prices could go down slightly, but they will be releasing a new wine, beer and cocktail list later this week.
They will also be starting brunch sometime in the winter, after they finish some work on a basement prep area (their open kitchen is remarkably tiny for the number of folks cooking in it; they’ll need the space). From Dan Wright, chef-owner of Senate, “Just imagine all the fun things we do with hotdogs except with pancakes, french toast, housemade sausages & eggs.” Sounds exciting, particularly on a Sunday morning, perhaps before a matinee at the Ensemble Theater?
There has been talk of Senate expanding, but they’ve decided against it. When I emailed Dan about it, he said, “We feel there is a certain energy about Senate and we really don’t want take away from what we have going.” I don’t blame them. What they’ve got going on is pretty good.