Flavor: Continental with global influences
Service: Warm, welcoming, knowledgeable
In addition to its famous white squirrels and waterfalls, Brevard is home to a wide range of dining options. There’s a generous handful of delis and pizza joints, some ethnic eateries, a steakhouse-and-saloon combo, and at least a dozen restaurants claiming a spot in the “fine dining” genre.
The Hobnob, which is located right around the corner from the Brevard Music Center, falls into the latter category. The restaurant offers up this definition of “hobnob” on its Web site: “to drink sociably or convivially, to associate familiarly,” as in “to hobnob with kings.” Fair enough, I thought – I’m always up for some social drinking, and if I get the chance to chat with a few kings, all the better.
We visited Hobnob on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening. A fierce wind chased us from our car and pushed us toward the restaurant’s front door, through which we could see the inviting glow of the fireplace’s flickering flames. The full bar near the fire beckoned, though I spied no royalty with which to drink convivially – my Picky Companion would have to do.
We followed our server toward the back of the restaurant to a small, cozy dining room complete with an intimate booth that was, unfortunately, already occupied. Our waitress indicated two chairs in the corner where, she said, many of her customers preferred to sit. I suspected that this had more to do with the primal satisfaction of eating with one’s back protected by a wall than the view the seats afforded, but not wanting to get off on the wrong foot, I chose not to share this supposition.
We perused the wine list, which is fairly varied and interesting. The bottles range in price from the very affordable to the cost of my monthly mortgage. We sampled several of the wines by the glass and found all to be quite good.
A survey of the menu turned up nothing overly ambitious, but showed a respectable assortment of classic dishes with contemporary additions – as well as evidence of a bit of a blue-cheese fetish. As we were making up our minds, a basket of steaming, crusty bread arrived with a deliciously lemony chimichurri, a South American spin on the standard bread condiment of flavored oil. My companion smiled with satisfaction as he broke into the loaf. “Now that,” he said, “is sexy.”
We opted to begin our meal with a bit of seafood, and ordered the scallops and the crab-cake appetizer. The crab cake arrived on a bed of sweet corn salad, garnished with radiating spokes of pickled okra, a generous squiggle of remoulade, and a confetti of purple cabbage and parsley for garnish. (It was as though a piñata had broken open in the kitchen.)
The cakes were of good, fresh crab, and they were quite satisfying, especially when smeared with the remoulade and followed with a nibble of the okra. This helped to provide some extra flavor, as the cakes and corn salad alone were somewhat lacking in that department. Of the two appetizers, this was my favorite.
The scallops were competently cooked and tender; tragically, many restaurants can’t seem to figure out how to cook the delicate little sea creatures appropriately, yielding rubbery, unpleasant results. The accompanying sauce – an Asian-influenced mustard/sesame glaze – would have been a bit too sweet were it not for the wasabi aioli that had been decorously applied about the plate. The spring roll was a little soggy, perhaps because its wrapper was too thick. Picky pushed a garnish of chopped tomato about the plate with his fork, complaining a bit about “garnish for garnish’s sake.”
A small course of a very simple but well-done Caesar salad came next. The lightly dressed, fresh Romaine, with a smattering of house-made croutons and grated parmesan proved to be a good illustration of the benefits of keeping classics uncomplicated.
The main courses were well-received. The lamb rack, in its bath of a rich rosemary jus with a potato gratin, baby spinach and a dollop of goat cheese, was perfectly cooked, and had a very mild flavor. The gratin was also well-executed. The goat cheese seemed to be a bit of an excessive addition, but the flavor blended well with the rest of the dish.
A pork chop stuffed with Boursin and walnuts over braised cabbage, applewood bacon and new potatoes was a celebration of all things porcine. The dish was rich and tasty, though the chop itself was a wee bit dry, with not quite enough Boursin tucked inside to help with the moisture content. The extra fat from the pork belly and the juicy braised cabbage lent a hand, however, making for a satisfying winter dish.
Though there was barely room for dessert, I couldn’t help myself. We ordered the molten chocolate cake with a raspberry coulis and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a serious belly buster. As if that weren’t enough, the waitress had overheard me debating the merits of perhaps ordering the orange/chocolate mousse instead, and brought me a “taste” – which, in fact, was generous enough to constitute a decent portion. I was glad that she did, since the mousse proved far superior to the cake. While the mousse was rich and luscious, the cake had been overcooked, so there was nothing remotely molten about it (though that didn’t stop me from eating about half of it).
Interestingly enough, the word hobnob originated from an old English phrase meaning “hit or miss.” This particular experience was more hit than miss, and we were both satisfied. Hobnob is a warm, cozy spot where, as Picky Companion put it, “We were well taken care of, and the food was good.” He did mention that his socks were not exactly knocked off, though they seldom are. We agreed on this: Hobnob would be a good place to retire after a day spent viewing the falls, antiquing or some other leisurely pursuit. And, should you fail to spot kings, there are always the white squirrels.