The Warehouse Restaurant & Lounge has always been one of those places that I’ve driven by, but never really felt the desire to visit. When they first opened years ago, I visited a number of times with both really great and really bad results. In a downtown area where parking is harder to find than a frat boy who doesn’t own neon-colored jorts, The Warehouse has a big lot and a large space that can accommodate live music and large parties. It’s just a shame that they’ve never fully realized the potential of the location. This restaurant has long been the model of inconsistency.
But inconsistency isn’t the only problem that this restaurant faces. The food is all over the place, and generally comes across as trying too hard. You'll find menu items with more featured ingredients than a rap song has guest rappers. For example, the Seared Duck Breast ($18) is “topped with a spicy tomato sauce made with Andouille sausage, edamame, corn, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, ginger jasmine rice, and a side of vegetables” or the Cedar Key Clams Appetizer ($8) that’s “steamed and served in a sparkling citrus butter sauce with roasted red peppers, garlic, corn, onions, and basil.” Creativity is important, but there comes a point where it’s just pretentious and trying too hard. Particularly unacceptable when the results are poorly plated messes. Even the 8 ounce Filet Mignon is only available covered in bleu cheese and mushroom fondue. Come on now, there’s no shame in serving a simple Filet.
For a long time, the restaurant had a small menu with about 15 items. The food wasn’t great, but it was small and manageable by a kitchen that was clearly having difficulty keeping up. Food was cold (I had ice cold steak once) and took forever to leave the kitchen. So when I saw an announcement about a new menu on their Facebook page, I got excited. Maybe they finally got it right. They boasted about new items like Duck Tacos and Vegan Pho, so I had to give it a try.
I started with the Citrus Braised Duck Appetizer ($7.50 – Braised duck over caramelized plantains, citrus mojo sauce, and a fried yucca chip). They weren’t kidding when they said “a” fried yucca chip, just ONE…literally. It would have been nice to have a more savory crunch to offset the overwhelming sweetness of the dish. The citrus sauce was actually very delicious, and the duck itself was sweet and beautifully braised. But the plating of the dish was awful. It looked like a haphazard mess in a bowl that looked like my dog’s vomit. It’s the dish in the bottom photo. A friend of mine ordered the Duck Tacos ($8), which was the same duck served with a sriracha slaw and avocados in two flour tortillas. Unspectacular and overpriced.
For my entrée, I ordered the Vegan Pho ($9) because I had to try this new dish they were promoting. After reading the menu, I was honestly a little hesitant. Once again, they tried to do too much; Vegetable broth with tofu, asparagus, shredded carrots, rice noodles, red onions, fried garlic, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a lemon wedge. My first impression was it was completely overcooked and contained entirely way too much stuff for a simple Pho dish. The noodles were so overdone, they were gelatinous, and the broth was so sour and acidic, it literally tasted like someone poured half a bottle of vinegar into my bowl. I apologized to our waitress, who was very friendly and took great care of us, and sent back the dish. I’ve tasted better Pho out of a frozen box at Trader Joe’s. For $9, it was a complete joke.
The new menu is the same old menu, but now with even more items. So a clearly overwhelmed kitchen is now spread even more thin. This is not a good sign. The “Lounge” part of the space seems to do well with local beers on tap, and a well-stocked bar. On nights where there is live music, it’s a good place to visit for drinks and a good time without the parking hassles that plague the rest of downtown. But if you’re hungry and want to grab a bite to eat, I would suggest eating elsewhere.