The minds that conceived Freedom Beat at the Downtown Grand have some good ideas, but someone needs to work on execution.
Unlike its predecessor, Stewart & Ogden, Freedom Beat is part concert venue, regularly hosting local artists and up-and-coming talent from other regions. The setup seems to be perfect for the purpose, with the stage along one long wall, dining tables on the other, and musically themed accents such as sawed-off guitar necks and musical instrument cases.
As the Downtown Grand’s only in-the-building restaurant it’s a 24/7 venue, with breakfast available all day. There are regional dishes, including walleye, beloved in much of the Midwest and a pretty tough ticket in Las Vegas. Its popularity in its native environs stems not only from its easy availability in the region’s freshwater lakes but also its mild, almost sweet flavor. And so it was disappointing that the huge portion of ale-battered walleye ($18) was anything but mild and sweet, its proximity to any lake apparently a distant memory. And the fact that both it and the accompanying fries were greasy (perhaps the oil wasn’t hot or fresh enough) didn’t help. The coleslaw was fresh and crisp, although it could’ve used more moisture.
Greasiness also plagued the starter of roasted tempura cauliflower ($8), which left a pretty heavy residue in the bottom of the dish. This one also seemed like a great idea. Most fried cauliflower isn’t roasted first, but roasting gives it lots of deep flavor, and the tempura batter had the potential for a nice crisp contrast, though that wasn’t quite the case.
The Stacked-High Pastrami on Rye ($13) also showed potential. House-made pastrami, the menu promised, but while this brisket was tender and relatively well flavored, it lacked any of the peppery coating of a good pastrami, leaving it much more like a decent house-made corned beef. The pickled onions on the side were well executed and a nice touch.
The winner of the evening was the Hoppy Ale & Cheese Soup ($6), which had both well-balanced flavor and a nice creamy consistency. Creativity showed in the garnishes served separately, pork-belly croutons and popcorn, which both complemented the soup nicely. But here’s another but: While the soup was hot when we dug down into the bowl, it was way too cool toward the top, indicating that it had sat too long in the window. The croutons were cold as well.
All of these buts are a shame, really. Service was pleasant and efficient, the place comfortable and the menu varied and creative. All of the problems could be easily remedied, and that would enable Freedom Beat to live up to its potential.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.