To be honest, I’m not stoked about the whole Frank Kent Wine Bar/Honda Showroom thing happening on the Near Southside. Oh, sure. I saw a picture of the mock-ups, and it looks neat and all, but you know what that space would have been way better served by? A 100-person capacity rock club, the kind of place to fill the void left in the wake of The Moon Bar on West Berry Street. Certainly, The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge delivers plenty in terms of live music as do the occasional shows at The Boiled Owl Tavern and The Chat Room Pub, but West Magnolia Avenue kind of begs for a dedicated rock venue, a place where a band that’s full of heavy riffs and just as heavy B.O. will feel just as at home as one of those groups in which a guy in suspenders huffs over an empty jug for 45 minutes. Oh, well. Kent & Co. Wines is busily under construction. Maybe the Live Oak will surprise me and book a bill headlined by Boris.
More than that, though, there’s already a perfectly good wine bar on Magnolia, and I fear that two will be overkill. However, I suspect if you’re the sort of enthusiast who pays attention to wine the way People subscribers care about Khloe Kardashian and Cat Fancy subscribers care about felines, the differences between Frank Kent’s Wine-a-palooza and Grand Cru will likely be delicious, like the subtle, sensual, sensually subtle subtleties of a pinot squeezed from a vine grown in Narnia.
I went to Grand Cru on a Tuesday afternoon, with flip-flops on and mind open. Though I come from a land where macro-vinters like Gallo get their grapes (California’s Central Valley), I am 99 percent ignorant about wine. (It comes from grapes. It’s purple. Well, most of it.) I like beer and bourbon –– most of my experiences with wine involve either a boring wedding reception or a holiday couch nap.
Grand Cru, however, offers more than just glasses of vino. For one thing, they have a modest selection of curious beers — at the top of the list was a Cuvée Alex Rouge, described as an “extreme black beer whose nose goes toward pepper, vanilla, ashes, tobacco, and fresh hops.” The last time I tasted ash and tobacco in a beer involved a Corona and a bet at 4 a.m., but I figured this was a flavor profile created on purpose. Keri, the woman tending bar, said they’d sold a lot of them. “I’ll take one,” I said.
About halfway through my extreme black beer, I figured since I was at a place dedicated to sophisticated palates, I might as well go whole hog. Or half-cheese anyway. Grand Cru offers an appetizing selection of snacks ranging from cheese trays to Mediterranean fare. I went with a serving of Spanish manchego and English coast cheddar. After I finished my beer, I asked Keri to pick a glass of wine within the paramaters of dry and spicy, and she came back with a Portuguese red that seemed to give the cheddar a bold chocolate note. Maybe. I’d burned the roof of my mouth with a bowl of soup earlier, so everything I ate that day boasted a bold note of scorch. “It’s probably the wine,” she said. “Wines change the flavor of everything in interesting ways.”
I smiled. “Why not?” I thought. I ate more cheddar, my brain wondering if each successive bite was more chocolaty than the last.
In any case, whatever happens months from now, when Frank Kent’s Winestacularium opens its drivers’ and passengers’ doors to customers, Grand Cru is a friendly spot to enjoy a glass recommended by people who truly care about wine. It might not be another rock ’n’ roll dive like The Moon, but Grand Cru is captivating nonetheless. — Steve Steward
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