“Have you been to Yard House before?” our server asked, as servers at chain restaurants often do. “No? Well, we have great food and a whole lot of beer and loud music. That’s what we do.” That was the whole of the spiel welcoming us to the newest restaurant at The Banks, except she told us we should get the chicken nachos. “Those things get bigger every time, I swear.”
The music – well-selected oldies like The Doors and Hall and Oates and The O’Jays – wasn’t all that loud, but the decibel level overall was high. That’s because the place is huge and was packed on a Reds game night.
A large circular bar dominates the barn-like room. Considering how large it is on the inside, it fits in fairly nicely into its spot just by the Suspension Bridge, of which you have a great view if you’re seated at that end.
The beer tap system and the menu are built on the same gigantic scale. That many people drinking before a game isn’t my scene, exactly, but it’s fun to be at a party in the city’s new party room.
I squeezed up to the bar to get a beer while I waited for my beeper to buzz and for my friends to show up. The beeper happened first, and I was grateful that they seated me before the party was complete.
With its 160 taps, 140 separate beers selections, this is a perfect place to explore beer. Like the music, the list is mainstream, but wide-ranging, from Bud Light to Delirium Tremens. The list is helpfully organized by style. If your favorite kind of beer is a malty, medium-bodied lager, for instance, you can check out that section and perhaps try one you haven’t had.
You can get it in a short glass, a regular pint or a ridiculous half-yard, which I’m sorry to report I did not try. I did see some people who had ordered them, and the top of the glass was higher than their mouths, so you have to stand up or slouch way down in your seat to take the first few drinks.
Photos: Inside Yard House at the Banks
The menu is as wide-ranging as the beer list. There are burgers, sandwiches, salads and full-on dinner entrees like steak and seafood, with a preponderance of Mexican and Asian flavors. It’s good quality food, better than most casual chain restaurants.
There are plenty of modern touches that have recently entered the mainstream, like Korean barbecue tacos or salted caramel pudding. Inexpensive ingredients are given fun presentations, and the flavors are pumped-up. Food-wise, it reminds me of The Cheesecake Factory.
Sweet potato fries as an appetizer ($3.95) were particularly good ones with a nice light crunch and a sweet maple dip. Blue crab cakes ($11.35) were good too – also with a lightly sweet, fruity sauce and garnish. Moo shu chicken egg rolls ($9.85) were hot and crunchy and attractively presented. Shrimp ceviche was severely lacking in shrimp – it was mostly diced fruit.
We took advantage of the shorty size to try several beers. My friend who likes weissbier had a König Ludwig hefeweizen. Another who likes Belgians and didn’t have to drive home went for the Belgian sampler – six types, all strong.
The orange peel chicken ($16.85) had more big chunks of chicken than you’d get at most Chinese restaurants, with a lot of flavor in the (rather sweet) sauce. The pepper-crusted filet ($27.95/34.95) was nicely cooked, piled on top of mashed potatoes with a smooth, rich mushroom sauce. Halibut ($25.35) came towered on a pile of bok choy, asparagus and rice, which was a bit over the top, and the fish was dry.
The mini dessert trio ($8.95) is the way to go with dessert, if there’s more than one of you. The chocolate souffle, the peach/apple cobbler and the lemon souffle and are all homey and comforting and trendy. Actually, just get the regular size of the chocolate souffle.
Although I really liked the laid-back attitude of our main server, I have to say the service slipped. It took much longer to get entrees than apps, and even longer to get the final bill. Things got spotty and a lot of different people showed up at the table.
Note the hours: you can order food until 1 a.m. on the weekends.
THE YARD HOUSE
Where: 95 E. Freedom Way, Downtown
When: 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Bar open half hour later.
Prices: Appetizers $9-13, sandwiches and burgers $10-$13, desserts $6-10.
Vegetarian options: Excellent. They have an entire menu of dishes made with Gardein, a meat substitute.
Reservations: Not taken except for large groups Monday-Thursday.
Miscellaneous: Large covered patio – or you could call it a room with no windows. Accessible to disabled.