The Watching League
Hay Merchant is kind of my dream bar: craft beers: check; inventive food menu, check; big screens for the game, check! So why am I not there every Sunday?
The crowd here is your typical Montrose crowd, an eclectic mix of yuppies, hippies, foodies, and beer snobs. The vibe is mellow and refreshingly adult-oriented (no kids or dogs here, folks). There may be one or two groups of collar-popping twentysomethings talking just a little too loud, but the older couple in the corner balance them out and keep the noise in check.
Score: Touchdown (7 points)
Since Hay Merchant is not officially a “sports bar,” they do not have the electric voltage Twin Peaks boasts. However, on game days, a large projection screen dominates the biggest wall in the main area, and you can watch the game from pretty much any table/bar stool on one of the smaller screens sprinkled through the bar. Beware, they only broadcast sound for Texans games.
Score: Safety (2 points)
Hands down the best beer selection in town, maybe state … dare I say nation? Hay Merchant’s carefully selected beers always seem to taste better than the same beers served at other bars, probably because they’re served at the optimal temperature and in the correct glass.
If you don’t know which beer to pick from their dazzlingly long menu, any of the knowledgeable (and down-to-earth) bartenders are happy to make a suggestion. I do wish they carried hard liquor, but I guess I can’t have my gingerbread stout and eat it, too.
Score: Two touchdowns, two two-point conversions (16 points)
This is where it gets tricky. I realize everyone, and I do mean everyone I know, absolutely loves and raves about the food at Hay Merchant. For me, if I want something unhealthy, it’d better be worth the calories. If I want something unusual, there had better be some heart and soul into the creativity.
The saving grace for me was the barbecue lamb ribs over broccoli slaw. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and had just the right amount of gamey taste to it.
I grew up snacking on pig ears, so of course I had to order the sweet and spicy fried version at Hay Merchant. I was pretty disappointed with this dish. Pig ears should be tender in order to appreciate the crunchiness of the cartilage. Hay Merchant’s pig ears were more vehicles to deliver overpowering spice. It was more gimmicky than tasty.
The poutine is not nearly as thoughtfully prepared as the same dish at Down House — the fries were cafeteria-style, not soggy but not crispy either, and the gravy lacked some much-needed flavor. As for the pretzel, I remain loyal to the giant fluffy yet hearty pretzel at Mongoose versus Cobra, which although I wish it were also served with cheese dip.
The saving grace for me was the barbecue lamb ribs over broccoli slaw. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and had just the right amount of gamey taste to it. The savory barbecue sauce paired nicely with the sweetness of the broccoli slaw.
In an attempt to be healthy, I ordered the Crispy Egg & Bacon Salad. It was anything but healthy (I should’ve known by the name), but the flavors and textures among the fried egg, crisp lettuce, and creamy dressing were perfect. Chris Leung’s Cloud 10 ice creams ended the meal. The black sesame & sesame oil was my favorite, in addition to cafe sua da, spicy dark chocolate, and toasted rice.
Score: Field goal (3 points)
Recap: 27 points
I love Hay Merchant, despite my mixed-bag opinion on the food. I only complain about the food because I have such high expectations and respect for chef Antoine Ware. I would be here every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday if they broadcasted sound for every game instead of only for Texans game.
I guess that’s why it's not my default sports bar — because it's not a sports bar by default. A nice change of pace from the beer-and-burger template, Hay Merchant comes very close to being my ultimate sports bar. The search continues!