My visit to Clinton Hall’s location at 230 East 51st Street was, pardon the cliche, a total blast. This place overflows with “fun times”–while it might officially be designated as a “beer hall” in many online food guides, it is much more than that. Sure, they have dozens of artisanal beers including some of their own that they make out in the Boogie Down Bronx–and the fruit-based hard ciders are ones that are nearly impossible to get elsewhere. But Clinton Hall’s “fun options” include a large selection of board games (you will see a lot of guests playing Jenga while they eat), whimsical oversized desserts and milkshakes and even Tuesday night bingo hosted by an outgoing and glamorous drag queen names Izzy Uncut. The atmosphere is one of fancy picnic tables that actually are shaped more like Parsons tables and utensils and spices are in large metal racks on each table.
Portions are huge and almost all the food is suitable for sharing. My dining mate Gail and I ordered the nachos to start and the order was enough for at least five hungry football players or football fans (there are many large screens to watch sports from different angles, so Clinton Hall has a big sports spectator crowd). The chips were tricolor with particularly dark “blue” chips that packed a serious crunch. The nachos came loaded with lots of sliced jalapenos, dabs of homemade salsa, sprigs of cilantro, large doses of queso and a large scoop of homemade guacamole in the center. For only six to ten bucks extra, steak or chicken can be added.
Next we had to try Clinton Hall’s most famous dish, the doughnut grilled cheese served with tomato soup. This grilled is actually pressed with olive oil in the pan, so the sweetness of the glazed doughnut is diminished. The classic Wisconsin cheddar used is gooey and rich. The tomato soup is homemade and pretty much the classic recipe; you will notice that most people dip their grilled cheese in their soup here.
The Smashed Burger is also megapopular at Clinton Hall because it got the #1 Best Burger Award at the Food Channel’s annual food fest in New York in late August. This simple double patty cheeseburger indeed seemed to be “smashed” meaning it was pressed with a spatula while cooking. This burger is served with pickles, a homemade sesame bun and about three cups of golden Idaho shoestring fries. It really does deserve an award because the meat is so flavorful–if you want a burger than oozes juice and makes a mess when you eat it, come here. It is just pure simple perfection and does not rely on a lot of toppings or a flashy appearance for foodie appeal.
Not that Gail and I were trying to be healthy, but roasted Brussels Sprouts always appeal to us. The ones served at Clinton Hall are special because they have a bit of an Asian ginger flavor happening. You can also clearly taste the EVOO and like juice used. These are both refreshing and filling. I took some of these home because we could not finish them at dinner and the flavors were even more intense the next day at lunch.
I previously hinted that the desserts are huge and pack a playful punch. That is a bit of an understatement as you can tell from the photos above of the WTF Red Velvet Waffle dessert. It is a hell of a lot more than just luscious and thick homemade red velvet waffles. The waffles are simply “in the mix” with about eight or nine other sweets like a large slice of red velvet cake made with cream cheese icing, Oreos, whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and M&M’s. It’s pricey at $25 but it’s enough dessert for six people. I think this would be a wonderful items for a kid’s birthday party. They also do giant milkshakes that feature slabs of cakes and cookies on top and I hope to go back and try the Strawberry Shortcake milkshake some time in the near future.
I also forgot to mention that there is a casual bar scene here with specialty cocktails that are more reasonable than the scenester hangs. I fell in love with the Carbona pictured above, which is a fun Cuban inspired run drink. You can turn up at any of the five Clinton Hall locations in Manhattan and Williamsburg without a reservation and large parties are welcome. You will love the fact that it is a fun, no rush, game playing and TV watching atmosphere that is almost like being at home (except with better food and friendly people waiting on you). Their website is www.clintonhallny.com. I recommend it for bringing out of town guests and celebrating birthdays in a situation where you want to linger and have drinks after your meal.