The Session Room
Turn right at the bar.
by M.B. Lewis
From the May, 2017 issue
When a new restaurant boasts upward of sixty draft beers and ciders, plus colorful tap handles for dozens more hanging around the bar like pinch hitters waiting to play, you might wonder how much focus goes into the food. And for the first half-year of the Session Room's life on Jackson Rd. just west of Wagner, there was positive buzz aplenty for the big-windowed rustic-modern space, occasional live music, and vast, eclectic beverage selection. When I asked acquaintances about the food, though, their first reports didn't overflow with enthusiasm.
Then something seemed to change. In the depth of winter, I started hearing the place suggested for evening meals, with callouts for the monster nachos, good pizza, and appealing salads. It was time to check it out.
As I entered the huge converted machine shop on a Sunday evening, my gaze fixed on the regal, C-shaped booths that line the long walls. Well padded, these cushy benches make you feel like you're sitting in an opera box above the hoi polloi. You also get a good view of what everyone else is eating. Watching a precariously piled platter of "Session Nachos" arrive at a table, with a few jalapenos and olives tumbling down its slopes, I was impressed but not tempted. We went instead with our server's advice and started with artichoke dip and guacamole. Both were house-made and delicious. The guac looked good, seemed extremely fresh, and had an ideal jalapeno heat that lingered without burning. In the dip, big chunks of full-flavored artichoke hearts floated in a rather soupy garlic-cheese sauce, making it hard to eat. Yet we managed to wipe the bowl clean with warm pita triangles.
My salmon BLT sandwich topped a generous portion of grilled fish with two big and tasty (if slightly chewy) pieces of cherrywood-smoked bacon, aioli, lettuce, and--impressively--a thick slice of heirloom tomato. The first of several good tomatoes we were to have here in early April, it produced wows. Chef
Traver Lucas told us later that he's seriously committed to big-flavored tomatoes--this time of year, local supplier Frog Holler sources them from a greenhouse just over the border in Ontario.
Pizzas are offered in both traditional and creative modes, plus build-your-own possibilities with toppings reasonably priced at a buck each for veggies and two per meat. I liked the toppings on the Pizza Pesto--red onion, roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and broccoli--but it was a little lighter on the pesto than expected. The BBQ pizza featured pulled pork rather than the more common chicken, alternating with thin slices of sweet Pink Lady apples and red onion. The sweet-savory combo worked surprisingly well, partly because the crust of all Session Room pizzas is thin but crispy, with oily richness that gives a sound foundation to the quality toppings.
The single pizza size falls between most places' small and medium, meaning solo orders should result in taking a couple slices home. Two people might also share a pizza here, especially if they're drinking filling beers or having sides or salad. If you go that route, try the fresh kale salad, with a bright palette of eggs, avocado, feta, beets, and cucumber beautifully framed by the bed of dark chopped kale.
You may also want to save room for dessert. The chocolate crust cheesecake sounded too rich after pizza, so we tried the other two options. "Chocolate X3" is a wedge of triple-layer mousse that progresses from a dark base, through milk chocolate, to a creamy top; it satisfies a chocolate craving just fine. Our hands-down favorite, though, was the "Berries & Cream" cobbler, with slightly warmed and sauced big blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries under a crispy granola topping and a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream.
At a second visit on a crowded Friday night, we walked into a forty-minute wait, made less painful by a convenient walk-up beer-ordering counter at the side bar. When we got to our table, we started with a big plate of crisp veggies, pita triangles, and house-made hummus--good and garlicky, but not as smooth-textured or salty as you might expect, and a little light on the tahini too.
This time I ordered the "14OZ Ribeye." At $26 it's their most expensive entree, but the price is reasonable considering the pile of mashed potatoes, big side salad (with shaved Parmesan and more unseasonably good tomatoes), and herb butter melting into the lightly marbled, crisp-edged, pink-centered medium platter-sized steak.
A companion's burger, ordered medium rare, also came out just right. Not having forgotten the luscious berry crisp, we ordered it again. This time, the whipped cream topped enormous fresh blueberries and raspberries--not macerated, let alone cooked. The variation "speaks to a kitchen still in its infancy," my friend reflected, but we cheerfully polished it off nonetheless.
So maybe the Session Room kitchen isn't consistent yet, but I appreciated the high points on the menu, the friendly service, and the big-sky sunset views. One beer is brewed with water from Alaskan glaciers--and sixty-some more from around the state and the world can be tasted in two-ounce samples for a buck or two. Also, taxi and Uber contact info are at the bottom of the menu, helpful if you get carried away with liquid meals.
Even better, turn right at the bar, head into the dining room, and direct your attention to some surprisingly good pub fare.
The Session Room
3685 Jackson Rd.
Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun. noon-10 p.m.
Starters, soups, and salads $4-$12, sandwiches and pizza $9-$16, entrees $14-$26, desserts $5-$6.
[Originally published in May, 2017.]
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