It’s tough to save room for dessert, but do it. The affogato, “drowned” in Italian, starts with frozen chocolate semifreddo and vanilla gelato, which is sprinkled with crumbles of amaretti cookies and homemade chocolate pop rocks — a fun idea, although the fizz is barely detectable — and finished off with a bitter kick of decaf espresso poured at the table. The oozy and not-too-sweet chocolate cake, however, is overpowered by salty peanut butter ice cream that not even crunchy nuggets of caramel corn can save.
The food is the star at Steel & Rye, but the decor is a close second. The hostess station is fashioned out of an old typeset cabinet and post office boxes. Sprigs of lavender in brown medicine bottles grace each table, and the serving dishes are an endless variety of bowls, plates, mason jars, cast-iron skillets, and crepe pans. There’s a shovel attached to a painting. The dining room is almost at the brink of being overdecorated, with the feel of a designer gone wild in an industrial supply store, but it’s fun to look at.
Rye is a specialty here, in tribute to the grist mill that once produced rye in the neighborhood, and the bartenders have a way with whiskey, from the fizzy Seelbach to the dangerously drinkable rye Manhattan, enlivened with eye-droppers full of bitters from tiny blue bottles lined up on the bar. There are a half dozen varieties of rye to choose from, along with several small-batch bourbons and an assortment of tequila, brandy, and scotch. The wine list is impressive, with several bottles well above $100; a nice array of offerings in the $30-$40 range keep it accessible. And the beer on tap also runs the gamut, from Notch Session pilsner to Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Steel & Rye is that kind of place. It’s distinctive yet casual, with empty nesters dressed up for date night sitting next to young couples with babies. The atmosphere is industrial but cozy, the cuisine creative and homey. Parsons describes his restaurant as the “yin and yang of agriculture and industry,” and he seems to have captured the best of both worlds.
Katie Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.