An anecdote about notorious Depression-era gangster John Dillinger would perhaps be most appropriate here, but indulge me in taking a less obvious route by talking instead about John Hancock. President of the Continental Congress at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he is remembered less today for his contributions to the document and more so for his large, iconic signature upon it. That word, “signature,” is at the heart of every single dish and drink upon this sensational speakeasy’s seasonally shifting menu. And rarely are their signature touches small and illegible. Like Hancock’s they are large, assuming, and immediately obvious.
Case in point: no two cocktails are served in the same glass. Their premier potable, The Escape, is served in a finely-crafted copper cup fashioned after a pineapple. The glass of The Vagabond, meanwhile, is placed in a nondescript brown paper bag, casting the illusion of a vagrant hopped up on hootch purchased with pennies from panhandling. Other drinks are set apart by their flourishes, such as a cinnamon stick with which to twirl The Cat’s Meow, or an edible hibiscus flower garnishing the Bright Punch.
Appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts all receive the same level of attention. The “chips” of their fish and chips are in actuality hash browns which coat the top of the filet. Their fried calamari eschews traditional batters for a dusting of funnel cake instead. A side of fries are not served with classic condiments such as ketchup or vinegar, but rather french onion dip, channeling the fries close cousin the potato chip (why this inspired combination was not happened upon sooner is a question I asked myself immediately after seeing it in the menu).
It must be noted that the drinks and dishes both favor style over substance, though this is more so due to an excess of style than a deficiency of substance. It’s fine for the flavor to be merely functional and somewhat forgettable when the visual presentation is so striking and memorable. The only way in which it is at times insubstantial is with regards to portion sizes; their seared scallions, for example, were technically plural as the name suggests, but only barely so with two to a serving. Like other hipster hotspots to recently pop-up as part of Hub City’s ongoing gentrification, TDR strives more to sate the soul with its flare than the belly with its fare. But with this as its goal it succeeds in spades.
The final “signature” of note is The Dillinger Room’s unparalleled service. The owner, Mike, is affable and attentive, constantly conversing with regulars and newcomers alike. The waitstaff, which will include many familiar faces to anyone who frequents New Brunswick’s bar scene, wear their veterancy well, standing head and shoulders above their competitors and former colleagues.
This saloon-inspired speakeasy is a welcome addition to George Street (a return, really, as the establishment in the same location prior to Makade was likewise named The Dillinger Room), one which in very short time has made me a regular. Stop on in and tell them Cowboy sent you.