Casual and cacophonous, One Block East can be a roller coaster ride. Credit chef Brian Chichester for making it one usually worth taking.
On a recent Saturday night, it feels as if the loudest people in the world have packed into the hard-surfaced little eatery. A server forgets an order placed from the restaurant's impressive blackboard list of craft brews in bottles and on tap. Twenty minutes go by before another waitress brings a fine Long Island orange cream ale.
It goes down easy with the crunchy, smoky pulled pork empanadas and his spicy-creamy hot crawfish dip laced with andouille sausage. One can't help wishing, though, that the dip came with something better than hard little pieces of toasted French bread. And that the skillfully spiced veggie chili weren't so watery.
Ordered naked -- without barbecue sauce -- baby back ribs taste subtly of the hickory wood used in the slow-smoker. So, too, does a plump half chicken, which might have excelled had it been served hot. Tops among side dishes are smoky, pulled-pork-laced baked beans. Mac and cheese, though, features pasta overcooked to a near paste.
Garlic-poached shrimp and grits with house-smoked bacon is a simple comfort. And chopped brisket tacos on soft corn tortillas with a bright pico de gallo are nothing short of sensational. Although the barbecue burger is more well-done than requested, it's smoky and juicy, boosted by its topping of pulled pork, barbecue sauce, Cheddar and thin fried onion wisps. A shame the accompanying hand-cut fries are dried-out, nearly cold. Especially since they turn out to be piping hot, crisp and nutty-sweet on a subsequent visit. While a lobster roll is big on flavor, it's small in size -- and gratuitously topped with big cuts of underripe tomato.
At lunch, an ahi tuna "burger" (actually a steak) comes out too salty to eat. But, at that same meal, a plate of fish and chips qualifies as a standout, the logs of mild cod fried up bronze and crunchy.
Desserts, served in cute little Mason jars, are gluten-free. Best is the banana cream "pie" topped with freshly whipped cream. It's small and ambitious, speaking of the potential inherent in this freewheeling newcomer.