I couldn't help but be excited when one of Hicksville, Ohio's, native sons filled me in on the new brewery there, which he says is the most exciting thing he'd seen in his hometown when it came to restaurants.
I got even more excited when I saw the exotic dishes Two Bandits Brewing Co. offered. Ostrich, anyone? How about a little kangaroo?
But what I found after visiting the cool spot on the main drag of Ohio 2 was that those exotic offerings were not the most exciting things there.
The best odd dish was actually not even part of the “Tastes of the World” section. The Are You Ducking Kidding Me sandwich was not made with a seared breast; it was a duck burger that was super moist and highlighted the fat, which is the most decadent part of the bird. The patty was deftly seasoned and looked a lot like a turkey burger, but there was no denying it was duck from the first taste. The smoked gouda was the perfect cheese for it and all of the components – red onion, tomato, peppery arugula and fresh avocado – worked in harmony to make it a must-try.
The No Brainer sandwich had a much more exotic bird – ostrich – with arugula, tomato slices and onions on wheat berry bread with a jalapeño-cranberry mustard. The dark ostrich meat was very tender and its thick slices reminded me a bit of beef tips. It had just a touch of wild game aftertaste, but that mustard was simply fantastic on it. As a matter of fact, the spicy-tart sauce would be good on about anything, and I will be trying it on that duck burger next time.
But the bread was all wrong. It was too soft and easily fell apart under the weight of its fillings. The ostrich was also cut in a way that made it fall out easily.
The Can Nachos fell out easily – by design. This inventive appetizer arrived at the table in what looked like a tall, stainless steel bucket. It was layered with circular nacho chips, pulled pork, black beans, queso sauce, jalapeños and black olives with big scoops of sour cream, salsa and guacamole on top. The can did not have a bottom and my server shook it slowly, pulling it upward in a showman-like way to release the insides, which fell perfectly on the plate so they looked like they were never in a can at all.
The nachos were fun because of the show that came with them, but could have used more cheese sauce. Had it not had the novel approach I would have just considered them mediocre.
The best appetizer was the poutine, dubbed Canadian Cardiac Arrest, which had no special presentation or preparation, but was done so well I can't think of a better version I've had. It, too, had pulled pork – many dishes did – atop thin, crispy fries along with Wisconsin cheese curds and a classic brown gravy. The ratios were spot on, the gravy was yummy and it was pretty much perfect.
The pulled pork also worked magic atop macaroni and cheese. This dish was listed among the “Tastes of the World,” which was odd since it was about as American as it gets. The cheese sauce coating the macaroni was made with smoked gouda and the same queso as the nachos. That queso added a distinct peppery spice and the smoky gouda played well with the pork and smoky-sweet barbecue sauce drizzled on top.
The Porker BLT didn't have pulled pork at least, but it still missed the mark. The menu promised “prime, thick-cut pork belly” with heirloom tomatoes, arugula and Italian bacon aioli on a toasted sub bun. It had the arugula, it had the aioli and it had tomatoes, but those tomatoes were regular red that were a bit waxy and not ripe. And the meat was cured, smoked bacon, not uncured belly. It was good, fatty, delicious bacon, but I was hoping for belly.
That sandwich was still way better than the 14-ounce rib-eye, a regular weekend feature that I was told could be added to the menu soon. I would leave it off.
It was just a bad steak; sinewy and tough without enough compound butter on top to at least give it some flavor. The California vegetable blend on the side was mundane and not even the roll was good as its bottom half was hard and stale.
At least the beer at Two Bandits that I paired with the steak was good. The Fountain Street Ale wasn't exotic, it was just a simple light, refreshing brew that is playfully called a “porch pounder,” because it is so drinkable. I also loved the Razzmanian Devil, a raspberry wheat beer that was savory instead of cider-sweet like most fruity wheats.
There were some good sweet things, though. The Blue Tang – a lemon pound cake with blueberries – was delicious with steeped berries and their juices on top along with a sweet lemon reduction. The cake was moist and rich like cheesecake and the berries were deftly added to just accent the lemon.
The Jack and Coke Bandit Brownie was also tasty but didn't live up to its hype. The Coca-Cola brownie was very dense almost like the boxed brownies you ate as a kid in your lunch. The slab of ice cream on top went well with it, of course, but I struggled to detect any Jack Daniel's bourbon flavor in the chocolate sauce on top or anywhere else for that matter.
Two Bandits has the right kind of vibe for a brewery. Its nifty space features easily the coolest restrooms in the area that are fully decked out in DC and Marvel superhero swag, which spills into a hallway. It is almost like there is a mini museum in the back. The rest of the place has its share of flair, too, with wood and brick walls scattered about with photos and other oddities like a chunk of a racing motorcycle. There is also a bicycle hanging upside down over the bar.
There was nary a flaw with the service. My servers were perfect and one of the owners was there making rounds to assure everything was, indeed, being taken care of.
All of it added up to a great excuse to cross the state line – whether you want something exotic or not.
Restaurant: Two Bandits Brewing Co.
Address: 106 E. High St., Hicksville, Ohio
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Poutine ($8), Can Nachos ($12), No Brainer ($18), Are You Ducking Kidding Me ($16), mac and cheese ($9), Porker ($9), steak ($22), desserts ($5)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: ★ (1 maximum), service: ★ (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Two Bandits Brewing Co.
Out of a possible five