The folks behind Ida Claire may be well-intentioned, but they’re not exactly alone in their aspiration to offer an elevated-but-approachable take on Southern cuisine. And the Dallas-based chain’s first Alamo City location doesn’t bring much new to the dining table.
The Quarry location, which formerly housed chef Johnny Hernandez’s El Machito, has been expanded to offer Ida Claire’s mix of indoor and outdoor seating. The patio hosts two converted Airstream trailers, which provided for an inviting first look. During warmer weather, one promises to offer an upgraded private dining room and the other to serve outdoor cocktails.
Inside, the restaurant’s tables, walls and ceilings are embellished with carefully curated tchotchkes, patterned dishes and mirrors. An open kitchen allows diners a view of the cooking process.
My servers quickly delivered my appetizers of crawfish corn beignets and fried green tomatoes, both large enough to share. The dense, deep-fried beignets and lightly battered green tomatoes were well-prepared and served with mustard remoulade and a pistou aioli, respectively.
Ida Claire’s bar offers booze in addition to beers and by-the-glass wine, so I opted for a sample of craft cocktails. Most were on the sweeter side and didn’t live up to the restaurant’s promise of being “South of Ordinary.” Even so, a Peachy Keane — made with bourbon, honey, peach and ginger tisane and egg white — was pleasant even if it lacked distinction.
I was there during the 3-6 p.m. Vinyl Happy Hour, which included $5 cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Frosé, so it was good to know there are other options. The head bartender kept the music moving throughout, selecting vinyl by Sam Cooke, CCR and Earth, Wind & Fire.
The main courses required a longer wait than the appetizers, and while well-prepared, both lacked excitement or a fresh take on their origins as basic Southern staples.
The shrimp and grits looked good but served as a reminder that you can’t rush good grits — or cover up undercooked ones with asiago cheese. Fortunately, there were plenty of grilled shrimp to distract. It’s worth noting that the servers were apologetic and sent the dish back after I brought the textural problems to their attention. They also regularly visited nearby tables to check in and ask how their parties were doing.
Ida Claire’s take on Nashville hot chicken was crisp and flavorful — a savory half bird topped a slice of pimento cheese-laden toast — but it wasn’t actually that spicy. I detected cayenne, but I was hoping for a more enticing array of spices, maybe even the addition of ghost peppers. The house pickles were nice, but not necessary.
For dessert, the cranberry key lime pie was sweet and unexpected, augmented by a crumbly crust and real whipped cream. Ida Claire touts itself as making everything from scratch, and that approach worked here. The pie was a welcome alternative to more predictable items on the dessert menu, including pecan pie, a hot fudge sundae and a berry-filled dump cake.
Despite the lack of creativity, Ida Claire offered a welcoming experience. And the restaurant may hold more shine during breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch than it did for dinner. That said, the Southern food trend has reached its peak in recent years, and several independent restaurants in San Antonio execute the region’s fare in more inspired ways than those served up here.
7300 Jones Maltsberger Road, (210) 667-2145, ida-claire.com
Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 9 a.m.- midnight, Sunday 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Brunch runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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