Like music, food has the curious power to transport you elsewhere, if only for a split second. In the same way that Ludacris’ “Money Maker” takes me back to my senior year of high school, there’s something about the menu at Split-Rail that brings me right back to my parents’ house circa 1996. I was 8 years old and my favorite food groups were chicken nuggets and strawberry shortcake (I had a very refined palate).
At first glance, owner and executive chef Zoe Schor’s (Ada St.) menu is comforting and familiar, a welcome feeling in an age of semifreddo this and foraged that. Chicken nuggets, fajitas, Scrabble snack mix and green bean casserole are all recognizable words that jump out at me right away. Before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up and talk about cocktails. The drink menu offers twists on classics, low-proof and no-proof options and creative, newfangled sippers. The hidden gem here is the low-ABV section, which boasts an herbaceous stunner called the Breakers, a delicate mix of dill aquavit, apricot shrub, black peppers, mace and basil. The result is as satisfying as sticking your straw in a liquid herb garden on a hot summer day.
When it comes to food, there’s depth in the description. Fajitas, Reimagined, for example, drops the tortilla in favor of generous, pink slabs of skirt steak and dots of creamy masa and tangy roasted red pepper gelee. If you close your eyes and take a bite, the dish matches the flavor profile of a sizzling fajita to a T—minus some of the guilt. The chicken nuggets are accompanied by a house-made honey-mustard sauce that puts anything you can get at McDonald’s to shame. The earth-shattering fry gives way to expertly cooked ground chicken that’s speckled with a house spice blend. Dunking each nugget into the trough of honey mustard requires no fork or dignity, perfect for a Friday night.
Other flavor combinations didn’t fare as well. The Finger Sandwich—eggplant and ‘nduja between griddled focaccia with warm honey—was a conundrum of competing tastes that didn’t play nice together. But whatever qualms I had with that dish were made right with dessert. An airy slice of angel food cake is served with fresh strawberries and Chantilly cream—a simple but delightful way to end the meal. Schor’s new outpost feels a lot like returning to your childhood home as an adult: There’s an unshakeable sense of familiarity paired a hint of surprise to keep you on your toes (like that time your parents turned your bedroom into a craft room).
Atmosphere: Polished enough for date night, relaxed enough for stopping in for a drink at the bar.
What to eat: Order a mix of familiar (chicken nuggets, fajitas) and unfamiliar (red salad, lamb tartare) for best results.
What to drink: There’s no wrong answer here, but do give the low-proof section a shot.
Where to sit: There’s excellent lighting at the bar, but we felt right at home in a booth overlooking the dining room.