First Bite: Embers Ski Lodge

Ok, I’ll admit it. When I first heard that there was going to be a new restaurant in 12South with an après-ski lodge theme, I thought somebody had enjoyed a little too much “snow” during the late ’80s. But that’s exactly the vibe that restaurateurs Lars Kopperud and Mike Dolan were looking for with their new Embers Ski Lodge, and early returns seem to show that they hit it right on the head and that patrons are lining up to join them on the chair lift.

Kopperud and Dolan know the neighborhood well from their experience owning Mafiaoza’s next door, and they also knew they wanted to create a great bar for their neighbors. They brought in a creative team of general manager Matt Buttell and “creative director” Gary Hayward to develop a bar program that revolves around what they intend to be the largest and deepest whiskey library in town, and a menu of inventive cocktails with an element of fun. Embers also wants to make sure nobody has to wait too long to get a proper cocktail, so they have developed recipes that can be batched before each shift to ensure that a drink can be ready to serve within four minutes.

The drinks are just a little kitschy, with names like “Lost in Mace” and “To Bee or Not To Bee,” and that’s part of what makes them great. They also use top-shelf ingredients, which is reflected in the $12 price for their specialty drinks. But that price is in line with other premium cocktail emporiums in town, even if you are paying a little bit for the “shaker show” at those other joints. For volume drinkers, you can order a “Shot Ski” with four shots of Jager, Jameson, Tito’s, JP Wiser and/or Pennington’s Strawberry Rye served on an actual ski for simultaneous shooting.

The bar is definitely a convivial site, with rough-hewn beams and slices of birch trees facing the roof of the bar. Other nice ski-lodge decor includes a prototypical conical fireplace, and a two-story outdoor deck with a huge ski extending over the sidewalk is planned for the future.

Embers is open for lunch and dinner, and the food menu is sort of all over the place, but in a good way. Since ski lodges are popular gathering places from Aspen to St. Moritz to Nagano, it’s appropriate that the menu is eclectic and international. Most of the items are intended for sharing to better emphasize the interactive and friendly experience.

A smoked salmon spread is made from a Kopperud family recipe and comes with baguettes for tearing and sharing. Lava Cheese Fondue and Foie Gras Toasted Pound Cake make for decadent sharables that are appropriate accompaniments to one of Embers’ cocktails. Or more than one. Don’t miss out on the thrice-cooked Handcut Belgian Fries served with your choice of a dozen dipping sauces. I’m a big fan of the Roasted Garlic Blueberry Mustard myself. That mustard is actually fantastic with an order of (I’m not kidding) Reindeer Sausage that Embers imports from Alaska. Not nearly as gamy as you might expect, the reindeer is actually more like a really good kielbasa. Just don’t take your kids for that during the Xmas season.

What Embers calls “Base Camp Sammies” are actually served on bao bun sliders. Fillings include Mongolian Flank Steak, Nashville Hot Chicken or Short Rib and Foie Gras. While they might be a tad rich for lunch, you are having lunch in a bar, right? A better choice might be their Mt. Everest Cheeseburger with two 1/4 patties of Certified Angus beef served on a toasted brioche bun. At $10, it’s in line with the less expensive gourmet burgers in town.

Embers doesn’t take reservations, emphasizing the walk-in neighborhood feeling instead. They have made a nice gesture to the parking problems of 12South by going in with their neighbors at Urban Grub to lease a parking lot down the street to make sure that the offered valet service is available and timely. Land ain’t cheap in that area of town, so that effort should be appreciated.

Embers has been open only about a month, so I haven’t had the chance to eat and drink the whole menu, though lawd knows I’ve tried. If you’ve experienced something else, please feel free to share your impressions in the comments.

Article credited to:  CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

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