The Mint had a lot of promise even before it put up a sign: an economic development liquor license granted to them for a fraction of the cost they might otherwise have paid, an interesting concept of turning a dumpy-looking bank into an upscale restaurant, and then there’s that vault they spoke of converting into wine storage. Then they went and did something stupid, they threw the word “gastropub” on the end of the name.
The Mint Gastropub, as it’s now deemed, has quite a ways to go to get up to par. The décor is there, and it’s pretty. Refreshingly modern in a way few places in the valley are, the molecular lights spread throughout the dining area and the green cubist ones in the bar/lounge section dimly light a smart interior. Al fresco dining along an unsightly stretch of Broad Street is refreshing, but still ugly. It’s not too loud and indeed seems to be a fairly relaxing atmosphere. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but it’s spread out enough that it’s not a bother. Just be prepared to wait if you don’t have a reservation. Although it seemed a bit odd, it was nice having five flat screen TVs behind the bar to gaze at.
The service here, to put it lightly, is immature and faulty. On the first visit our server forgot silverware, dropped the food on the still slightly-damp outdoor table, and placed it right back on the plate. For unknown reasons our water was poured from a pretty, large frosted water bottle. The bottle was then whisked away instead of leaving it to refresh our glasses (for which we needed to ask to be done). On a subsequent visit I was met with more apologies and aloofness: repeated apologies that my order was taking so long, again with the silverware, and a bartender trying (and failing) at hitting on customers. There’s also the gem that I heard a waitress lay chipperly on a table behind me, “Yeah, it seems we’re always out of something good!”
So the food, how was the food? It was good, if mediocre. The corn dogs were perhaps the highlight of the food here. The delicious faux-Kobe beef hot dogs were surrounded in batter fried just right, giving a slightly crispy, soft-on-the-inside texture topped off by just the lightest hint of salt. They were accented well by a particularly pungent truffled mustard. The Muscovy duck confit was run-of-the-mill, if perhaps a little too well done. The skin was crispy and delicious but the meat didn’t pair well with the perfectly cooked, but tasteless, potatoes and blackberry gastrique. The potato chips failed to impress and it seemed as though half were too well done and the other half were limp and dismal. A Spring Chicken sandwich, which was supposed to have bacon, was mysteriously devoid of it. On another visit a dessert of PBJ Bread Puddin’ proved to be the biggest bomb of all: Titanic in size, cavity-inducing in sweetness. The peanut butter infused bread piled in an enormous mound on the plate was topped by, what seemed like, reduced Smucker’s concord jelly. Add to that a glob boring strawberry whip on the side and you’ve got the makings for a gut-busting affair that is hard to choke down.
The one place they go right here, but oh-so-wrong is the drinks. The beer list is great. Bringing in an old staffer from the deceased Tap & Table, they’ve taken what should have been a great wine and cocktail joint and somehow forced it into being a faux-beer establishment. They’ve been touting that they’re the only place to have the, admittedly great, Victory Donnybrook Stout. It’s a stupidly tasty Guinness replacement that amazingly clocks in only at 3.7%, allowing you to down a few and not get too drunk. The draft lift consists mainly of Victory brews, which as good as they are and as much as I love Victory, is a bit of a downer.
The wine list is OK, a bit unvaried. It relies mainly on Californian fruit bombs. The cocktail list here looks pretty good. I was quite excited to give it a try because it doesn’t seem to be your typical sugary messes. It looks like some thought actually went into these and it’s a shame that not more thought goes into making them. I watched as, cocktail-after-cocktail, the bartender freepoured drinks and measured nary a drop of alcohol. I had a Charthusian, a blend of Green Chartreuse, gin, lemon juice, and rosemary. It was so unbalanced and messy it took me an eternity to finish it. I also heard the bartender dropping such gems as, “I’ve never used a strainer in my life…it’s a personal preference and it’s not like it changes the taste of the drink anyways!” Sir, the men down at The Bookstore would like to speak with you.
What I’m mainly trying to get at here is that they’ve fouled up in their focus. Somehow they switched from “hey we’re going to have this awesome wine cellar in our vault” to “look at all of our different beers! We’ve also got cocktails and wine!” I admire that places want to stock good beer, and the more good beer to go around the better. The atmosphere, décor, and the food would indicate that they’d be better off getting some real mixologists, not bartenders leftover from The Firehouse and Tally Ho, and making their inventive drinks the right way. They’d also do good to beef up the wine list, vary it, and have someone in-house at all times who knows exactly what the hell he’s talking about. Keep some good beer, pare down the list, and put it on the backburner.
If they want to really get on the “gastropub” kick they’re going to need to get a lot more bottles (which, according to LVCraftBeer, they’re doing) and get more taps. For the love of god, they need proper glassware. Dumping a Sam Adams into the same glass that you’re putting a Liefmans Goudenband in simply won’t do. Do more to attract the beer geeks. They’ve done one dinner with Victory so far, but Victory is an easy get and all the beer nerds have had their stuff before. I’m positive if you’d take a look at their sales that liquor and wine make up the majority of it, not craft beer. With a the middle-aged and up crowd I observed, they’re not exactly attracting the “beer geek” clientele. Once they start bringing in casks, getting some seriously out-there breweries, bringing some beer that you’re not going to find next door at Abe’s, and getting some proper vessels to dump it all in, then maybe I’ll respect their “gastropub” add-on. To call it that now would be a joke.
The service needs some serious, serious work. In my two visits I saw very few older people in the restaurant working. A young, smart, sexy staff is great, but you need to have someone well-seasoned to run something like this. I watched as a team of no less than five people cleared a table. In two visits I was told “sorry” by the wait staff no less than five times. I don’t want to hear sorry, I want the service to not suck so bad. They’d do well to enact a far more rigorous training program and teach the do’s and don’ts of what people want to hear and see when dining at an expensive restaurant. And the food? I’m sure the food will get there. This is one of the first iterations of their menu, but for a place that’s been open for weeks the food should be more consistent than it is and be, well, better. The atmosphere here seems pretty great. So to sum it all up we’ve got terrible service, mediocre food, great beer list, eh wine list, and bad drinks. Hopefully they seriously step things up in the future because it’s a nice place that has potential and they’re not even close to reaching critical mass right now.
The Mint Gastropub
1223 W. Broad St
Bethlehem, PA 18018