Sometimes, it’s easy to tell the difference between a bar and a restaurant. No food? It’s a bar. Would you order food but not necessarily drink? Restaurant. Other times, the line is blurry, particularly when the bar dominates the space. There are many bars I wish I could eat dinner at every night, and restaurants that have perfectly good drinks, but aren’t quite there with the food. The General Restaurant & Mercantile falls in the latter category, and having “restaurant” in the name detracts from what it feels like—a comfortable bar, with good drinks from Emma Sterzinger.
The name implies you’re there to eat (and maybe buy things to go, like booze), but the menu, which remixes Mexican and Southern flavors into tacos, sides and snacks, needs finessing. Taco combinations like smoked bourbon brisket with tomatoes, onion, pepper and poblano sauce and fried catfish with sour cream, peas and slaw, generally work in terms of flavors, although they’re structurally unsound, with huge amounts of filling overwhelming the tiny tortillas. Only the gravy-topped fried chicken is a manageable taco. Other dishes don’t come together either—collard greens have a muddy consistency, the guacamole cries out for salt and shrimp and grit chimichangas are a dry mash-up.
And so you will drink—there’s a solid beer list, the Simmerson is a tall, refreshing mix of rum, caramelized pineapple syrup and falernum, and the Abolitionist is a bright gin drink with hibiscus tea, grapefruit liqueur and Lillet Rouge—and with good service and the chill vibe, you’ll be happy about it.
Atmosphere: Open and airy, with brick walls, wooden tables and a country vibe. In front, shelves are filled with beer and wine for sale.
What to eat: Fried chicken taco.
What to drink: The Simmerson or Abolitionist cocktails. There’s also a solid beer list, with BuckleDown and Moody Tongue brews, as well as ciders. For $8 on weekdays, get a beer, shot and taco.
Where to sit: Up front, where the open windows lend an airy feel. Besides a bar, there’s a patio and some two-tops. Some tables are tucked in back, and there’s also a cute back patio.