Atwater Detroit Tap House (Detroit, MI)

Halfway through our walk through Detroit, after Mexican Town, Cork Town, Downtown, and the River Front, we came to the halfway point of our walk in Detroit’s Rivertown neighborhood. Also known as the “Rivertown-Warehouse District”, for much of its history that part of Detroit was an industrial area situated between Downtown and the “Gold Coast” neighborhood of residences overlooking the Detroit River, with the Warehouse district anchored by the giant Parke-Davis pharmaceutical building (now “River Place”). Since the nadir of Detroit in the 1980s, that whole section of riverfront has seen a lot of development in fits and starts, including Rivard Plaza (now greatly expanded from recovered brownfields as William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor), Chene Park (now the home of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater on the banks of the river), and, starting in the late 1990s, a surprisingly vibrant neighborhood of restaurants, clubs, breweries, and warehouses converted to lofts and condos. One of the earlier pioneers opening in this part of town was Atwater Brewing’s Detroit Tap House, and it continues to be a good destination when I’m in the city.

I’ve been to Atwater a good half dozen times on different visits to Detroit, and I generally enjoy their beers (and it is now getting to the point with new breweries everywhere that a brewery that’s been open a bit over 20 years is now an “old timer”) and they’ve got a rather good selection of bar food: appetizers, burgers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and a handful of entrees (fish and chips, for example). As a bunch of visitors having already walked to Atwater from Mexican Town via Corktown with a few detours, we already had around 11 miles under our belts, so we ordered several plates of poutine as a great way to recharge as we relaxed for a few minutes. Atwater’s rendition is pretty flavorful: the fries are nicely done with a nice soft interior and a nice crisp, the gravy is more beefy than salty, and they sprinkle on some scallions (a nice touch) and a five-cheese blend. The poutine purist in me really prefers proper, squeaky cheese curds for a proper poutine, but the five cheese blend worked reasonably well here, and was well-received.

For my entree, unlike previous visits where I’ve usually gone for one of their nicely-dressed brats, a pub burger, or their prime rib, I decided to go for an unusual order for me: their Beyond Burger. Looking back over 2019 to date, one of the big culinary media topics for the year has been newer meat-free burger patties arriving on the market, with the most popular new entrants to the market being Impossible and Beyond. Since I’d previously enjoyed my burger at Atwater, I figured this was as good a place as any to give a Beyond Burger a try, so I ordered up their standard Beyond Burger, with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and a vegan bun.

The world of meat-replacement patties has always been a bit hit-and-miss. Until recently, the mainstays of that world (the Garden Burger, or the portabello mushroom) were both basically recipes for disappointment, pretty much lacking both the texture and the right flavor profiles to really make a proper burger. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never been an impossible task; I’ve seen several places do some excellent work when they just focused on getting the texture right and not necessarily worrying about trying to imitate meat. Particularly, my current top 10 burger list still has one vegetarian burger on it: the Wild Rice Pub Burger from Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth Minnesota: starting with a very flavorful wild rice-based patty (it’s not vegan, having eggs and dairy in it), the resulting burger is a masterpiece of texture, juiciness, crispiness, and umami that makes the burger a complete success even while nobody would ever mistake it for a beef burger (note to self, I really need to get back to Duluth and do a proper writeup of Fitgers…). So, with that in mind, I wanted to see how one of these fabled Beyond Burgers would stack up.

Well, cutting to the chase: it was pretty good. Served up as a good inch-thick patty in the “large pub burger” style of thick burgers, the Beyond Burger at Atwater had all the burger basics decently accomplished: the burger patty is moist and juicy, with a texture pretty close to that of a medium-well burger (a bit dryer than my preference, but not bad), a pleasant, well-rounded flavor with a slight salty note that isn’t quite “beefy”, but definitely meaty and reasonably pleasant. And, in a notable success where most other veggie burgers I’ve had failed, this Beyond burger held a near-perfect sear reminiscent of some of my better burgers I’ve had, with a char transitioning to little crunchy bits. Despite the vegan nature of the bun, the bun was pleasant enough with a good toasted finish to it. The net result of this was a burger that, while I still wouldn’t mistake it for beef, it certainly enjoyable enough, and not at all disappointing. Indeed, I have to say that in capable hands, this Beyond Burger meat replacement has some potential (others at the table got the Beyond Brat, which was also well-received).

So, another visit to Atwater was another good meal: our beers, appetizers, and even my exploratory Beyond burger were satisfying and enjoyable, and a great way to take a break from our long walk. I’ll certainly be coming back on future trips to Detroit.

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