Southtown’s reputation as a haven for artists and other members of the liberal intelligentsia is due to get a boost with the opening of Liberty Bar in its new, ex-ecclesiastical digs. A little healthy competition for area restaurants can only be good in the long run, though Madhatters Tea may find itself vying for many of the same customers. A recent lunchtime visit to the popular haunt suggests that its appeal is currently strong, however. Artists abounded. Power attorney Gerry Goldstein arrived with an entourage — then fled upon seeing the length of the line at the order counter. Bill and Lanny Sinkin sagely appeared after 12:30, when the 15-minute wait had dwindled to a couple of minutes, if that.
The primetime line may have been annoying, but the food proved worth the wait, and service was swift and efficient after we claimed a table. Our appetizer order of grilled, bacon-wrapped artichoke “lolli-pops” arrived quickly — maybe (since they were not piping hot) because they had been pre-grilled. But the combination of thin, crisp, lean bacon with briny, marinated artichoke hearts was good regardless, and the chipotle mayo that was served as a dip was suitably of the moment.
Sandwiches and salads being the Hatter’s staple fare, we had one of each: a grilled hummus sandwich on whole wheat in honor of liberal tastes everywhere, and an Original Warm Pork Tamale Salad in homage to San Antonio’s primal palate. The sandwich, which also contained everything from mushrooms and baby spinach to tomatoes, artichoke and melted provolone, was a little ethnically confused, but its politics were right-on regardless. Mainly, it just tasted good.
More chipotle mayo made an appearance on the salad, but the three tamales (yes, unshucked) were bold enough to fight back, and the array of multi-colored greens and reds, along with pickled onion, cucumber, tomato, and generous chunks of feta, would have made any rainbow coalition proud. True, it cost $10, but good intentions (and good taste) rarely come cheap.
Desserts are another teahouse staple, and a lemon chess pie — split between us in an attempt not to be blatant over-consumers, seemed an appropriate coda to the meal, as well as a bow to Southern tradition. Cornmeal figures in many recipes for this classic custard, but here the Hatter must have been distracted by a very important date; the pie was nearly gritty, and though the lemon taste was good, it was perhaps a little too discreet.
We suggest, then, that the real competition for customers in the ’hood may be fought and won over a slice of pie. Watch out, Madatters; Liberty Bar makes a mean lemon chess.