Saturday, July 31, 2010
Mad Moose Saloon
Name: Mad Moose Saloon
Location: 53 Chenango St, Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 723-3470
Cuisine: Southern BBQ/Wood-Fired Pizza
Price: Entrees $10-$15, pizzas about the same
Mad Moose Saloon, or "The Moose" as everyone including myself seems to call it, is a unique restaurant to Binghamton's dining landscape, and a place I've been to countless times over the years. The Moose first opened about five years ago as an upscale bar/lounge/nightclub with large, comfortable couches, a small dance floor, and huge projection screen TVs. Since then, it has progressively morphed into a casual dining restaurant which happens to have a humongous bar adjacent. It has been interesting to watch this progression over the years as a loyal patron who has had high hopes for The Moose from day one. This is easily one of the best-looking places in town and a really comfortable place to hang out with large groups of friends in a spacious atmosphere. Its location near the intersection of State St. and Henry St. puts it far enough away from downtown that the clientele tends to be a little older than what you'd expect a couple blocks down.
Since the Mad Moose opened for food a year or two ago, I have always been interested in trying it out, but had never actually done so until last night. I was especially interested after I found out that the Moose had procured the services of Chef Dunster, formerly of D.C. Dunster's and Zazou across the street. Those are places I'd never been to, but had heard from many people that they were quite good and quite unique as Binghamton eateries go. Anyhow, I was meeting some friends at the Moose for a going-away party at 8:00 PM and decided to arrive an hour earlier than that to try the food. With Megan out of town for the evening, my friend Tom (also a longtime patron) came along and we gave it a shot.
The atmosphere at Mad Moose is unparalleled in downtown Binghamton. This is the best-looking place in town, a dimly-lit, underground location with spacious booths, high-top tables, and the biggest bar I've ever seen. The space is well-decorated. There's a clear dead-animal motif with all sorts of animal busts protruding from the walls. The atmosphere is rustic yet somehow feels a little upscale. On ambiance alone, this has long been one of my favorite places to go in Binghamton.
We arrived shortly after 7:00 PM and got a table pretty quickly. It was unclear whether we were to seat ourselves, or be seated by a host/hostess. A hostess kind of weakly pointed toward an open table so we sat ourselves there. Five minutes later, we had menus.
The menu at The Moose is totally up my alley. They have all sorts of specialty wood-fired pizzas, ribs, pulled pork, chili, and several other items that appeal to rampant carnivores such as myself. The side dishes (from which you can choose two with the purchase of any entree) sounded equally tasty. Some options for sides include sweet potato fries with a tabasco-honey glaze, root beer baked beans, Chef Dunster's "famous" cole slaw, and mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallow sauce. With Theo's in Johnson City gone by the wayside, I didn't think I'd find sides like these again in the Triple Cities.
I decided to try the Pulled Pork Platter and opted to go with the baked beans and the mashed sweet potatoes for my sides. I also ordered a cup of chili as a starter. Tom decided to try the Pulled Pork Empanadas and got a bowl of the soup of the day, a spicy turkey soup. With the empanadas, Tom elected to try the aforementioned sweet potato fries.
A few minutes later, our soups arrived. I thought the chili was very good. In addition to the usual ground beef, I also detected some pulled pork in there. With beans, chopped onions, stewed tomatoes, sour cream, and jack cheese, this was some very good chili. I would've preferred it a little spicier, but that's what I say about most everything I eat. Tom found the turkey soup "pretty good" but was a little bothered by the discovery of a bone in the soup. Not a huge deal, but lack of attention to details such as those would become a theme of the meal. So the bone was a harbinger of mistakes to come.
After we were done with our soups, the waiting game began. Both of us were pretty irked by the shoddy service, especially since it was now after 8:00 and the rest of our posse had arrived. We had hoped to be done eating by this point. We watched as those around us who had come in after us got their meals, and after about 40-45 minutes from the time we finished our soups, we finally got ours.
My pulled pork was awful. AWFUL. I'd say at least a third of what was on the plate was fat. The rest of it was mediocre and covered with a bland, weird barbecue sauce that reminded me of Heinz' 57. As someone who typically loooooooves pulled pork, I found this massively disappointing and a far cry from the pulled pork I had the other day at the Big Dipper BBQ in Apalachin. That was some delicious stuff....this was not. On the plus side, the sides were both excellent. I enjoyed the root beer baked beans and the mashed sweet potatoes were very good and somewhat reminiscent of the candied yams I used to order at Theo's.
For what it's worth, Tom thought his meal was "pretty good." I tried a bite of his empanadas and thought they were decent and an interesting combination of flavors...southern BBQ-meets-southwestern. The sweet potato fries did not impress me much. They looked and tasted a little bit burned and the "tabasco" portion of the tabasco-honey glaze was seemingly missing. Tom also noted that he was not impressed with the presentation of the food, in baskets instead of on plates. I tended to agree, but there were obviously other things that bothered me more.
After eating we paid the bill (by now it was almost 9:00) and headed over to the bar to join the rest of our group. Speaking of the bar, something that bothers me is that the Mad Moose serves all of their beer in Mason jars. I can understand why they could get away with serving crappy swill like Bud Light in a Mason jar, but a few weeks back they had Brooklyn Brewery's Dark Matter on tap, and it would've been nice to experience this rare bourbon-aged beer in a snifter or wine glass. But the bartenders at the Mad Moose range between unknowledgeable and just plain stupid. After all, this is the place where Megan once ordered an Amaretto Sour and was asked by the bartender, "what's in that?" A: you're the bartender, you tell me, and B: what the hell do you think's in an amaretto sour?
Within an half-hour after finishing eating, I started to get some massive stomach pains and had to leave the party early. I'll stop short of saying that my illness was caused outright by the food I had eaten, but I will say that I was fine before I got there...
I don't know that I would eat the food at Mad Moose again. I am still interested in trying the pizza, but I can't fathom that it would be a place I'd go for pizza often given the number of other quality pizza options in the area. I do know that the service was beyond slow, the pulled pork was positively disgusting, and that I have felt ill since consuming the food. At the same time, the sides were awesome, and the atmosphere that the restaurant provides is the best in the area. It truly is a fine place to hang out with friends and have some drinks in a cool atmosphere. I feel awful to give such a harsh grade to a place I've had a lot of enjoyable experiences in over the years, but as a restaurant, I did not find The Moose up to par from a food or service standpoint, and this is "Tasting Binghamton," not "Cool Places to Hang Out in Binghamton." Frankly, this grade is generous; had this been my first visit to the Mad Moose, it would have been my only visit.