by Hillary Langford
There is such a thing as bad bar food. Sometimes you just need a grease buffer when the drinks are going down too easy, but shelling out your hard-earned coin for a basket of chicken planks and soggy nachos is a bummer.
Thankfully, Kevin McGrath and Steve Rogge, the duo behind the Richmond area’s Asado Wing and Taco Company and The Flyin’ Pig, are smitten by good pub food and beer. And their latest venture delivers up a hearty helping of it.
The location of Wood & Iron Gameday Restaurant and Bar in Midlothian might be familiar to some suds lovers, given that its spot in The Shoppes at Bellgrade used to house Brew American Gastropub, a spacious beer-centric restaurant that featured two walls of taps and a bevy of bottles. With the exception of a respectable beer collection, the new restaurant outshines the former by quite a bit.
I stopped by on a bustling Wednesday night, the bar chock full of cheering University of Virginia fans. Unlike most bars flanked with flat screens, this one isn’t so loud a conversation with your server is next to impossible.
The vibe is rustic without feeling contrived. And while open, its 6,600-square-foot space is divided in such a way that strollers and wheelchairs easily navigate the seating area and escape the din of sports fans. There’s also a sizable patio.
“You can hang out with your friends at the bar or bring your family in to enjoy the same atmosphere. You are never bunched in with everybody,” says Leslie Brown, general manager.
My server, Paige, walked me through an extensive menu comprised of meats smoked in-house, award-winning chili, ground-in-house chuck and brisket burgers, salads, and flatbreads. She suggested I check out Kindred Spirit’s Headspace, a dank and delicious IPA that pours surprisingly clear with citrus and grapefruit notes, and some of their signature Philly cheesesteak egg rolls to start. Beer nerds should know that there’s nary a tulip or similar stemmed vessel around.
Everything is served up cold in a pint glass (or larger if you want to give a 10 percent brew served up as a Big Boy). A best-seller for a dang good reason, the rolls arrive piping hot and deliver a savory flavor punch when their flaky crust parts to make way for a plump serving of steak, onion, and cheese. It’s a generous serving to say the least.
There is a lengthy list of 35 seasonal and rotating drafts, all local or regional. Folks might be surprised to know Gameday took out half the taps installed by Brew. “We think it’s better that way; it’s like regional beer intensified,” Brown says.
After much waffling, I settled on the brisket burnt-end tacos, which proved to be a solid call that offered up tender goodness wrapped in a warm, grilled flour tortilla. The pineapple coleslaw and signature southern cane drizzle added just the right bit of sweet to the smokey bonanza before me. Let it be known, you are going to have juices running down your chin and will not care. The accompanying four-cheese mac was gooey, the perfect texture, and just the right size.
A word of advice: Save room for dessert. The fried ice cream is like no other, rolled in cinnamon graham cracker crumbs and served up golden on a flaky crust, topped with a creamy dollop of gooey chocolate sauce. It paired nicely with Ardent’s malty Dark Rye, though I admittedly called it quits after half a pint of the easy-drinker given the hefty alcohol by volume.
If beer isn’t your thing, you can sip on a variety of sangrias or muddled fruit craft concoctions from the Crushers & Smasher list. Or kick back with a cozy hot toddy. They’ve also got an impressive list of nonboozy drinks to keep your designated driver happy, ranging from a house-made Shirley Temples to one of the tastiest, most balanced limeades I’ve ever had in my life.
Half-y Hour, the nightly happy hour and game-day specials, offer up a bargain price on most offerings, so it’s good to have a responsible friend in tow.
If you dig what you had at Gameday, you can take it home with you, too. It offers growlers and kegs, and recently started a catering department to take the party on the road for large events.
The game has been raised, folks.