May 2, 2012

Rex 1516

I first visited Rex 1516 for a dinner date, but was enamored enough with the charming, Southern-inspired space to bring the visiting parents back- a great excuse to try out more of the menu.  Almost directly across from sister venue Jet Wine Bar, the narrow restaurant is decorated simply with exposed brick, dark wood, and unique light fixtures kept low for a comfortable, slightly romantic ambiance.  The lay-out doesn't allow for many diners, keeping noise to a minimum and ensuring attentive service.

The menu is nice and short, but maintains a good range for various palates. I previously had luck with the mussels appetizer ($9), so that was a no-brainer to start my meal.  A generous portion of meaty mussels tucked into invitingly steamed open shells sit in a shallow pool of a lightly spiced, wheat ale-based broth.  A couple of crunchy grilled toasts are good at soaking up the bacon-tinted juice.  Unfortunately, the dish was sort of disappointing compared to my previous experience with it.  The first time, the broth was chock full of tomatoes, bits of bacon, and white beans, but this time my broth was skimmed off the surface.  Same well-balanced flavor, but none of the chunky goodness.  

I convinced the pops to order crawfish pot-pie ($9)- a dish that sounded too rich to eat on my own, but perfect for stealing bites of.  Sure enough, a piping hot bowl of a thick, rice-based gumbo comes served in a  thick layer of puffed pastry, capped by a crispy dome of the same.  The pastry was multi-layered, soaking up some of the spicy juice without getting soggy.

The inside is a play on a Cajun etouffee, a dish based on a dark roux, rice, and shellfish.  Chopped red peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a few hearty dashes of cayenne help develop a slow-cooked, rustic flavor profile.  Three different cheeses add a creamy, salty aspect- this was definitely my favorite dish of the night.

Slightly sloppy inside view- not served with mac&cheese.
 The sweet potato fries ($5) are great for sharing-  a staple appetizer.  A thin cut allows for plenty of crispy surface area, but the insides are sweet and soft.  Sprinkles of salt and pepper make eating these plain perfectly pleasing.  The fries come with a deep dish of roasted garlic aioli that tasted a little bit off- and not a good pairing for sweet potatoes regardless.

Another table favorite was the mac n cheese ($7)- a steamy bowl full of creamy, cheesy goodness. This version is a little soupier rather than chunky- the mixture of gruyere, fontina, and swiss make for a nice complexity of flavor as well.  Small chunks of tomato here and there add some necessary acidity and brightness.  Cubes of salty ham provide a bit of a ham-and-cheese sandwich aspect- comfort food at its finest.

 After a midday meal of chicken and donuts at Federal Donuts, I had a hankering for something a little lighter.  The arugula and roasted pear salad ($9) fit the bill- an enormous pile of spicy arugula, dressed lightly with a maple-tinted vinaigrette. Crunchy toasted almond slivers are incorporated into every bite- thankfully the strong flavor of arugula allows it to stand primarily alone.  A thinly sliced poached pear and scoop of creamy ricotta are great accompaniments, but act more as a separate course (they could make a simple dessert)- I ate them at the end.

A had the same idea, opting for the chopped salad ($7)- a pretty standard house salad with an iceberg base.  Red onion and cherry tomatoes are salad staples, but the brioche croutons and more cubes of salty ham help amp up this salad above "incredibly boring" status.  The peppercorn-dijon vinaigrette added a hit of pepper, but was on the thin side- a thicker texture might give this salad a little life.

Our table also saw a couple of the burgers ($11)- a thick, 1/2 pound patty of juicy beef topped with several crispy bacon strips and hunks of blue cheese. The bun was a little bready, adding significant height to the already extra thick puck of meat.  The meat was overcooked (a few speckles of pink at most) but the texture was velvety soft, reflecting a rarer temperature.  A solid sandwich, but not particularly memorable.  The burger is served with a side salad (switched out with Caesar for my mom) or fries.

We did test out a single "real" entree- the pork loin (stuffed with cornbread and andouille sausage and morel sauce to give you a mental picture)- but we'll have to go back and try out a few more before we pass serious judgment.

Rex has a separate pastry chef in charge of the dessert menu, which explains why they all sound so incredible.  I couldn't resist the sweet potato duo ($7), highlighted by a flaky hand pie oozing sweetly spiced sweet potato puree.  A thin bourbon glaze cuts through the sweetness without being at all boozy.  The other side of the plate held a single serving round of fluffy cheesecake drenched in a sticky-sweet candied maple glaze (low light at this point made our photos questionable...).  I loved the double dessert aspect- reminded me of all those duos and trios that come out of Top Chef Quickfire Challenges.

Our other option for some meal-ending sweetness was the strawberry-rhubarb pie- a Southern summer classic.  The crust is a fancy pâte sucrée, serving as a sturdy, slightly sweet base as well as an interwoven top that crumbled into large chunks under a firmly applied spoon.  The fruit itself is largely unadulterated, lightly softened and warm without succumbing to a heavy syrup.  A large scoop of honey mascarpone cream was... weird... it didn't seem frozen, but thickly coated our mouths with its ultra rich, buttery taste.

Overall, Rex 1516 provides the ultimate in atmosphere (love the huge open windows and Old World feel) and service and quite a few solid dishes- apps and desserts play starring roles.  Fun twists on Southern comfort foods are always well-received in this household, so although there were a few imperfections, they were easy to look past.  A solid, comfortable neighborhood spot perfect for both date nights or small family get-togethers.

Rex 1516
1516 South Street


  1. looks like a fun meal! I want to try that sweet potato dessert!

  2. oh dear. Get me that mac and cheese!