Mar 22, 2014 · 7:30 PM
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If you had any lingering doubts that fine dining doesn't require white tablecloths, take a look at Prodigal Gastropub in Walker's Point.
It feels more pub than restaurant; music is in the forefront, and the TVs showing sports over the bar are in view of the main dining room, separated as it is by a short wall in a tall space.
A diner could pick his or her experience, really. Small plates for grazing or full entrées, or sandwiches, even: a juicy half-pound burger on a big, glossy bun ($14) with Gouda, mole sauce, apple and bacon, or a dreamy grilled three-cheese sandwich including six-year Widmer's cheddar ($11) with leeks, peppers and roasted tomatoes — and on the side, crisp tempura-fried rapini, an awfully good idea. A pair of veal cheek sliders ($14) were rich and savory under Madeira glaze, piquillo peppers and mushrooms.
But then there's also an elegant, reimagined rabbit "pot pie" ($15), a small-ish plate that conjures chef Van Luu's turns at Chicago chef Charlie Trotter's restaurants and, more recently, Bacchus: rabbit confit with mushrooms, celery root and carrots in a peppercorn-tinged sauce, topped with a rectangle of puff pastry.
Prodigal had plenty of flat-out delicious and sometimes surprising plates like that one, on a menu that organizes food by main ingredient rather than size of plate (let prices be your guide).
Menu offerings swing from light to robust, a match for the craft and import beers, the smart craft and classic cocktails and the brief but nice wine list.
A meal could start well with something like crunchy fried smelt ($8) with bright lemon aioli and XO sauce, the Chinese fish sauce, for depth. Or maybe the crudo ($15), substantial slices of hamachi with lacy ogo seaweed and radish in a pool of miso broth, a lovely plate.
Duck confit poutine ($14) could serve a table: a big bowl of the house fries (like steak fries, sort of) with duck jus, cheese curds from Clock Shadow Creamery and a luxe mound of duck confit.
The saffron broth for the mussels ($16) nearly eclipsed the mussels themselves as the star of the dish; in spite of the fries and bread to soak it up, I wanted a spoon for it. For the hamachi's miso, too, come to think of it.