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The Bench shows it's got game 

click to enlarge You’ve likely not had egg on something PB&J-inspired before. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • You’ve likely not had egg on something PB&J-inspired before.
In late 2014, Odyssey Gastropub launched downtown, quickly gaining traction; today wait lists aren’t uncommon. So, after Bar Rescue couldn’t save Garrison Tavern in the New South End, Tyler and Jenny Sherman procured it and moved key staff over to open The Bench.

It’s a self-described elevated sports bar, with another nice makeover, most importantly featuring a front patio to break up the brick box façade. It’s inviting, reasonably priced, and neither TV- nor memorabilia-plagued. A different food menu, courtesy of chef Scotty Razz and sous chef Heather Suydam, each with downtown kitchen experience, forges a unique personality from its sister’s.
Though as drinks go, The Bench easily plays as Odyssey South, craft-wise. Its beer list hosts ample quality bottle and can offerings and 10 taps. We dance happily with Oregon’s Hop Valley Citrus Mistress, its grapefruit bitterness balanced by a rich Munich malt body. Front house GMs Erica Bridger and Aaron Posey collaborated with their bartenders on a short house cocktail list, with lengthy, thematic names. Example: The Peanuts! Get Your Peanuts! features Deerhammer Distilling Co.’s Rough & Tumble hickory-smoked Colorado corn whiskey, a compelling sip on its own, here mixed with sweet vermouth, with a couple shell-on peanuts floated as garnish. Cracker Jack crumbles make for another cute, flavor-mute thematic garnish, rimming the glass of the Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a markedly sweet Maker’s Mark-Frangelico-Amaretto mix cut with lemon. Redemption Rye meets lime and ginger ale for a great whiskey mule in the Put Me in Coach, I’m Rye Day to Play.

Launch a meal with the bright Shrimp Go-Jicamango salad, sporting strips of ripe mango, with jicama, cabbage and cucumber skin crunch, and raw red onion bite to balance the sweetness, plus a handful of plump, nicely under-seared prawns. Or get the Dip Dip Hooray, a trio of fresh tomato-corn salsa, smoky-rich chipotle queso, and bacon-onion dip, all scooped with house tortilla chips and naan bread. Frickled Veg scores with vibrant fried pickled veggies, spicy from jalapeño, dipped in another spicy element, chipotle ranch.
Definitely order the best-selling spicy chicken and pickles sandwich, a spun Southern treat of crunchy, juicy Sriracha buttermilk fried chicken breast, given more heat by the same chipotle ranch sauce, but cooled by the pickles and shredded lettuce. Vegetarians should appreciate the I’m a Fungi plate, essentially a napoleon layered with meaty portobello mushrooms, cauliflower and peppers, all grill flavored and seasoned/sweetened with Sriracha agave, even though it’s served over a bed of both salty sweet potato fries and naan (flecked with Mideast-invoking nigella seeds) that feels carb-redundant and disparate.

For a burger, consider the Peanut Butter, Jelly & A Baseball Bat, because its onion-raspberry marmalade and peanut aioli surprisingly don’t cloy or overwhelm (they are in fact quite subtle), and an egg waits to bleed yolk over a fine, chuck and short rib (73-27 ratio) patty. The sole dish we don’t dig (but you might, because it’s reportedly true to regional form), is the 4-way Cincinnati Chili of Mediterranean-spiced meat, cheddar and onions over spaghetti, with oyster crackers. We think of hot dog relish pasta, of not being drunk enough to savor it, of feeling like we’re eating something our older brother made with what was around when put in charge of dinner while mom’s still at work.

To use a sports cliché, nobody hits a home run every at-bat. But we appreciate a new-to-town dish bearing some odd historical stamp. The Bench is clearly having fun, and many will say ultimately that’s what a good game is all about.

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