The new endeavor from the crew behind the Low Brow Lounge, Pause Kitchen and Bar on North Interstate Avenue, brings much needed fresh grub and a full bar to an area dominated by fast food and greasy spoons.
Open since early December, Pause is located in the boxy building that formerly housed the all-ages hip-hop club Wax. The space has been reimagined in a warm way—with plenty of comfy, stylish booths, hanging lamps and a freshly laid patio.
Christiaan Erasmus, formerly of Fratelli, has put together a big, bold menu where cassoulet ($10) and steak frites ($10) French it up alongside American standbys such as hot-link mac 'n' cheese ($10).
A little incongruous, yes, but the something-for-everyone attitude prevails, making the nonsmoking Pause a true family-friendly destination. Kids are even treated to free pasta with butter and cheese until 10 pm, at which point they get the boot.
Small plates make up much of the menu. The pound of clams ($12) in a tasty garlic and herb broth with white beans and spinach, served with bruschetta, is a flavorful, hearty start. Sliders ($3, two for $5)—tiny burgers topped with melted cheddar and served with house-made sweet pickles—are juicy but, like the bread for the bruschetta, a little over-charred. Bonus: As a nod to the low brow, Pause boasts an "Every Day Special": That's two sliders, fries and a Flying Dog Pale Ale all for $7.
Still thirsty? The bar is fully stocked, the wine list short and to the point, and the draft selection bursting with micros and imports ($3.50), plus domestics ($2.50).
The meatloaf ($10), loaded with spiced pork and beef and served with light and perfectly whipped potatoes, pancetta gravy and garlic-sautÉed broccolini, vies for best option on the menu. The cassoulet ($10), served simmering in a terra cotta dish topped with bread crumbs, has good intentions but falls short with too many beans and not enough fatty meat.
Soups and salads are nice and varied. The crimini mushroom and celery-root salad ($7), a quintessential winter salad supposedly drizzled with truffle oil, is tasty but on the scant and over-salted side. Other options include a roasted beet salad with fig vinaigrette ($6) and a Caesar ($5, $9 with grilled chicken or steak).
A true bone to pick: The kitchen needs to slow down and take some extreme measures (hair nets?) against the bone shards and salad twist-ties we found in our food.
On the forgiving side, Pause has a commendable lineup of high-brow ingredients—housemade duck confit, marsala-poached pears, fig vinaigrette—with low-brow prep and cost. And the space is inviting to young and old, hip or homely. Its ever-changing desserts ($6) are house made and nightly specials are indeed special. And that's all worth a full stop.