Munch goes to the Rowdy Buck

Regular readers of this space are well aware of Munch's thinly veiled yearning to become a restaurateur or tavern owner. Sadly, Munch lacks the key component needed for such an endeavor -- money (or at least a wealthy uncle with a wobbly banister and no understanding power-of-attorney forms) -- so Munch is instead relegated to the realm of whiny wannabes worldwide: a critic.

Because as H.L. Mencken said, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; those who can't do either, lob verbal gasbombs at the first two from a safe distance under the guise of the First Amendment." Or something like that.

But establishment owners toil in a backbreaking racket and have Munch's near universal respect. Except for those few that open joints without one whit of vision or creativity. Too often Munch has excitedly checked out a new spot, only to be enraged by the banality of the place: the "decor" is merely promotional junk from Coors or Bud; the menu is some combination of bad wings, pizza and burgers; and the place probably has an Irish name -- like Lonnegan's or Doyle's -- even though there is nothing Irish about it.

So Munch appreciates guys like Scott Kramer and Steve Zumoff who have opened thematic South Side venues -- the Lava and Tiki Lounges and Double Wide Grill -- which could be called avant-garde or garish, depending on your taste. Their latest, the Rowdy Buck, which adjoins their landmark coffee shop the Beehive, is no exception.

According to a bartender, the Rowdy Buck's theme is that of a Prohibition-era whiskey den, a kitschy hunting lodge with gourmet hot dogs on the menu. The interior is all wood. There's a giant saw blade on one wall, a pair of waders on another. Some seats are made from stumps. Light fixtures with fake antlers hang about. A "window" looks out to an intentionally tacky faux-western scene.

It's like being inside a Lincoln Logs creation where you can get premium whiskeys, craft beers or a proper Pernod Absinthe fountain pour (sugar cubes and all -- $17) on a slick long bar that appears to be made from a giant petrified tree. If Fictional Hero of Munch (FHOM) Ron Swanson and cult filmmaker John Waters opened a joint, it might look like this place.

Munch and Poker Ace Friend of Munch (PAFOM) swigged beers -- Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Amstel Light -- while trying some of the 10 varieties of hot dogs available ($4.50 for a beef frank, $5.50 for veggie) all on poppyseed buns. We each ordered two beef dogs.

PAFOM quite enjoyed the flavors of the Texas Ranger, which he said were in complete harmony. The grilled onions, cheddar jack cheese and spicy mayo provided some kick, and the tortilla chip strips added a pleasant crunch to the mix.

He was less enthusiastic about the Po Boy, topped with shrimp, lettuce, tomato, spicy mayo and a pickle, which he said tasted a little unnatural. Shrimp and hot dogs are not his idea of surf and turf.

Munch tried the Tokyo, an interesting mix of sliced radishes, wasabi mayo and some overly pungent seaweed, then devoured the delicious Porky Pig, topped with grilled onions, cheddar jack, pulled pork and a honey BBQ sauce.

Our waitress was attentive and comped us a round when the hot dogs took a bit too long.

You can also cook your own S'mores for $12 -- chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, skewers and flame source provided -- but that option was unavailable during our visit.

The Rowdy Buck is a bar first, hot dog stop second, where weekend DJs seamlessly spin country, Southern rock and rap. Don't bring the kids. And Munch strongly advises those with delicate sensibilities avoid the place on Mondays during "Dirty Bingo" night (which is exactly what it sounds like).

Messrs. Kramer and Zumoff have created a conceptually cool cabin of kitsch on Carson Street, a place where hipsters, homeboys and hunters might all oddly be at home.

But Munch wonders: Is the Rowdy Buck a friend or foe of nearby neighbor the Smiling Moose? And just how do Elks Lodges fit into all of this?

The Rowdy Buck is at 1325 E. Carson St., South Side Flats. Call 412-431-2825.

First Published May 17, 2012 12:00 AM


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