Posted: 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Local Eats: Angry Ale's brings the heat

Pimento Cheese
Pimento Cheese

By J. Scott Wilson

In every city, you’ll find at least one area like Charlotte’s Montford Drive, a short street close to a major intersection which, due to an overabundance of commuter and business traffic, supports an outsized number of restaurants, bars and clubs.  It’s an anomaly, but a good one.  Like the Richmond Strip in Houston or Sixth Street in Austin, Montford is the place to go if you’re hungry, thirsty, bored or all of the above.

I could easily spend the next few months writing about all the places to get your grub on along Montford, but in the interest of geographic equality I’ll just make it one of the many centers of gravity for this column.

Occupying a prime spot on the strip is Angry Ale’s, at 1518 Montford, a place with a name that belies its friendly atmosphere.  It’s got a gigantic patio out front with ample seating and a smattering of big-screen TVs.

I’m more of a “sit at the bar” type, though, so I ventured inside to do just that, finding a prime spot in front of three TVs tuned to hockey, baseball and basketball respectively.  The bar’s impressively stocked, with all manner of hooch.  I generally don’t touch the hard stuff when I’m driving myself, though, so I pored over the 15 taps and settled on my old standby, OMB Copper.

I started off with an order of pimiento cheese, served with a half-and-half mix of french fries and tortilla chips.  The fries were a bit flimsy to drag through the dense, rich cheese, but the taste was excellent, with the saltiness of the fries balancing the spice of the cheese, and cutting the heaviness well.  A few more Scovilles worth of heat would have been welcome, but by later in my meal I wasn’t missing them.

When I lived in Texas, pimiento cheese was “funeral food,” that inedible stuff used to make finger sandwiches that no one ever ate at a wake, or occasionally a low-budget wedding reception.  Shortly after moving up here, I was introduced to the concept of a cheeseburger which used pimiento cheese.  I was sold at the first bite, but only because the person offering paid for the burger. (Important note to younger, more impressionable readers: “Because he/she bought it for me” is rarely a good reason to eat something.  Use caution.)

Recent review: Jerusalem Cafe

I followed that with a taste of the Buffalo chicken dip.  This is one of the good things about eating at a locally owned place: If you ask for a small taste of something and make it clear you’re willing to pay a couple of bucks for it, you’ll more than likely get it.  Try that at a chain sometime.  Expect frustration.

Most of these “Buffalo” dips are the same: melted cheese, shredded or chunked chicken and some sort of spicy sauce usually strongly reminiscent of Frank’s Red Hot.  Like the ubiquitous spinach-artichoke dip of the ‘90s, you’ll find some form of it on a lot of bar food menus.  I’m partial to the dip, as it contains three of my most-beloved food groups: hot sauce, meat and melted cheese.  Angry Ale’s is definitely better than most, made with bleu cheese and spices beyond the usual pepper sauce.  I could have made a meal out of it.

Sadly, my happy gustatory travel hit a major pothole with the next selection: the Not-Yet-Famous Cajun Eggrolls.  I’m going to have to recommend going back to the drawing board on these if they expect to drop the “Not-Yet” from the name.  You’re familiar with the concept: An eggroll wrapper is used to encase a panoply of nontraditional ingredients, usually done in a “Southwest” motif.  In this case, there’s sweet corn, chicken, goat cheese, Cajun spices, cilantro and a mix of other spices.  The menu boasts that they’re served with a “signature Creole sauce.”

If you hadn’t told me these were supposed to be Cajun, I would have had no earthly idea.  The friendly and highly efficient bartender, Hannah, told me they’re made in-house, and I get the feeling these folks are fairly savvy when it comes to flavors, so the complete absence of andouille sausage or pretty much any other traditionally Cajun ingredient was puzzling.  I didn’t detect a single trace of Cajun spices.  Cajun doesn’t always mean spicy hot, but it at the very least means well-seasoned.  The “Creole” sauce tasted suspiciously like honey mustard.

Things got back on track fantastically well with the capstone to this bar-food feast: the Badlands Burger.  This sort of creation is on the other end of the burger spectrum from the simple perfection of the Chubz chiliburger.  This dare-you-to-finish-it monster comes topped with fresh pico de gallo, house-made guacamole, enough jalapenos to count as a couple of vegetable servings and a fried egg.  Although it’s not listed on the menu, I’m pretty sure there was pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo in the mix, as well.  I ordered it medium-rare, and it was done to perfection (see photos for evidence).

The sweat began with the first bite, and I quickly realized this was one of those burgers you don’t put down after you get a good grip on it.  If you want to take any pictures, do it before your second bite. After that, the sweat will make your phone too slippery. Trust me on this.

The heat’s not the whole story here, though.  The coolness of the guacamole and the light sweetness of the pico did a good job balancing, and the heat level never got to the intolerable level.  If you’re a hardcore chilehead, you won’t have any trouble at all eating this.  If you’re more of a pepper dilettante, you’ll get a feeling of achievement when the last bite goes down the hatch.

It’s worth pointing out that Angry Ale’s offers a “regular” and “small” version of all the burgers, as well the dips and some of the appetizers.  This is a big plus for anyone eating alone or who’d perhaps like to be able to walk unaided after their meal.  The burger pictured is the regular, and before you think it looks small in my hand, remember that I’m 6’5” with Hodor-like paws.

I paid a bit extra to get the garlic fries with the burger, and I’m glad I did.  I love garlic, and I’m known for being unforgiving when garlic promises don’t deliver. These fries would hold Nosferatu at bay easily.  After eating these and the burger, it’s probably good that no one was expecting a kiss from me afterward.

I get the feeling the kitchen wizards at Angry Ale’s are burger virtuosos, and with a menu that offers a “PCP” burger (pimento cheese, pickles and bacon) and the Montford (topped with pulled pork, bacon, cheddar and barbecue sauce), I’ve got more exploring to do.  Someday I’ll even tackle the Elvis, described as peanut butter, fried bananas and bacon atop a burger patty.

So, to sum up: Get lots of great local beers. Skip the eggrolls. Eat everything else.

Next time, I’ll head to Matthews for a serious hole-in-the-wall find.

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