The Garrison, a newly minted restaurant in the historic downtown district of Fremont that serves up locally brewed craft beer and cuisine created from the goods of nearby producers, took us on a roller coaster ride of culinary accomplishment and misstep.
Let me start by saying that the owners of the restaurant, local businessman Tom Kern and his grandson Shawn Kern, are to be commended for taking a chance here. Fremont hasn't had an appealing, upscale gathering place in decades. They opened the establishment in November, in a two-story historic building on Garrison Street, just off the main drag. Patrons will be happy with first impressions; the restaurant has an industrial modern look of gray and black. Some of the building’s old brick has been exposed on the interior, adding to the rustic decor. We immediately felt comfortable.
The bistro-style menu orchestrated by chef Jim Kahmann has a German lean, with offerings of pierogi, kraut, schnitzel, cheeses, sausages, and kielbasa, but it’s also varied enough to please anyone.
We started out a first visit with the daddy of appetizers, the meat and cheese board ($15). We were happy with the grilled, smoked kielbasa, sweet sausage, pickled cucumbers and onions, and crusty bread, served with whole-grain mustard and a signature 209 sauce. A friend insisted that the fried pork belly included on the wood plank should be slow cooked to avoid a rubbery texture, or don’t bother.
The tostadas appetizer ($8), served with either smoked pork or chicken, melted cheese, onions, and barbecue sauce, were crunchy and flavorful. Our server, who was not afraid to offer suggestions throughout the evening, recommended the pork over the chicken.
Address: 209 Garrison St., Fremont
Category: Bistro style, American/German
Menu: Appetizers, entrees, salads, and sandwiches
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average price: $$$
Credit cards: MC, V, D, AE.
Ratings: ★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good; ★★★ Good; ★★ Fair; ★ Poor
I loved the presentation of a traditional French onion soup ($6), a giant onion shell playing the part of a crock. There was one blemish, though, that the chefs should pay attention to every time it is served: My onion bowl had a small hole at the bottom through which much of the broth seeped and cooled. We ordered it on a second visit to see if it was just a fluke and received a wonderfully hot bowl of soup — no escape hole — with all broth encased in the shell.
The three of us ordered entrees and continued up and down culinary hills. The roasted beet and feta salad ($9) a special being offered that night, had a fatal flaw: hard, undercooked beets. You can roast a beet within an inch of its life; undercooking these root vegetables seems like the only way to mess them up. The rest of the salad, fresh greens and peppers from local Rimelspach Farms, feta cheese, and a house-made poppy seed dressing, was on point.
The hit-and-miss continued: Another special, grilled swordfish with jalapeno orange glaze, was cooked to perfection, but the glaze appeared to be canned mandarin oranges without a hint of spice. A medium-rare bacon wrapped filet mignon ($21) was again, cooked well, but the Yukon mashed potatoes accompanying it were cold and thick.
A second visit was much improved overall, and we enjoyed a wonderful culinary experience with less disappointment.
The duck wings appetizer ($9) was sweet and juicy, served over a wonderful prize of sweet potato fries. Take a pass on the pierog, however, unless they come up with a better plan (appetizer $7, entree $9). The menu says house-made, but we questioned whether the thick-battered pieces with the tasteless interior weren’t shipped in bulk.
That night’s special, county fair beef stew with short ribs ($18), came out of the kitchen warm and hearty, with a braised, smoked short rib from the Sandusky County Fair’s prize winning short horn steer as the centerpiece.
The Garrison Burger ($11), ground chuck with thick cut, with house made bacon, cheddar, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and 209 Mayo, was perfectly pink as requested, and would give a signature burger in any joint a run for its money. My friend enjoyed his Cuban Sandwich ($9), house smoked pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, branco peppers and pickled red onions, but felt something was off about his favorite sandwich. “Like it’s a really good sandwich, just don’t call it a Cuban?” piped up another friend. He nodded.
The wood-fired grilled salmon entree ($16), seasoned with a lemon caper hollandaise, was very well done but, like the mashed potatoes on the first visit, the four-grain pilaf that came with it was gummy, with a “these-were-really-great-at-one-point-earlier-in-the-day” feel.
We plowed full steam ahead into some dessert, choosing the restaurant’s specialty, homemade sticky buns and an apple cherry bread pudding (both $5). They were both warm and delicious; don’t skip dessert here.
This restaurant shines in many corners: It offers a list of 20 craft beers, including its own recipe, Batch 209, and plenty of brews from Ohio and Michigan. There were some wonderful craft cocktails as well, served with the restaurant’s own personal touches, including a dessert drink with a truffle nestled inside the glass.
Perhaps most importantly, the restaurant boasts about its use of local fare, advertising when meats, cheeses, and freshly grown vegetables come from the local butcher or farmer’s stand, and meats recently culled from prize-winning animals auctioned off at the Sandusky County Fair.
Last weekend the Garrison opened a seasonal outdoor beer patio, perhaps a promise that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Those invested in the Garrison are definitely on the right track, but they have some kinks to work out before they are established as a tried-and-true culinary eatery. But that’s my take on it. If the crowds that dined here on two different occasions are any indication, they are thrilled to have been given a venue to share drinks, meals, and companionship after a significant lull, and the Kerns, in turn, should be supported in this worthy endeavor.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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