In the fast-growing restaurant market of small gastropubs that have sprung up around Baton Rouge specializing in bar fare and drinks, The Overpass Merchant is leading the pack.
Co-owners Lon Marchand and Nick Hufft opened the Perkins Road restaurant in March in the site of the former Zee Zee Gardens. The makeover the restaurant received, which is an urban-rustic chic, is small enough to feel intimate but large enough to accommodate a crowd.
The menu varies slightly between lunch and dinner, with lighter fare and a daily plate lunch specials during the day. The restaurant also offers a specialized late-night bites and a Sunday brunch menu.
The menus are small but focused, with a few “snack” plate selections that are meant for sharing, with small and large plate offerings that are plenty for a meal. It might be hard to narrow down your choice, but prices are right for simple food that you’re going to want to keep all to yourself, or get a few plates and share.
From the small list of starters, or snacks, the frites are fresh-cut french fries ($6) that are served with a roasted garlic aioli. The cheese curds ($7.50) are little morsels of that far northern specialty, deep fried and served with buttermilk ranch.
The golden-battered chicken skins are everything you like about fried chicken and what healthy eaters might first discard. Skins ($6) are served crispy and warm, drizzled with a light touch of sweet and spicy honey and hot sauce on a large plate. It's rich, it's incredibly decadent and worth trying and splitting between a large table.
The Overpass Merchant offers what is probably the best burger in town (starting at $10): a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib served with your choice of cheese and toppings that include bacon and onion jam.
Lunch offers a daily plate special for $8.99 and some lighter offerings that will get you back to work in the span of your lunch hour. The Hot Lonnie sandwich ($11) comes with a tea-brined chicken breast that is fried and served with cheddar, two long strips of bacon and a fried egg. It's reminiscent of the comfortable goodness you would find at the defunct Chelsea's Café.
The Salad #3 ($12) with rotisserie chicken served on spring greens with a sesame dressing, was huge but would have been better with warm chicken instead of the cold pieces buried under the mound of cucumber, ripe avocado and carrots.
The coconut shrimp tacos ($12) are served on a long board and plated for you to build your own tacos. The shrimp are fried with a light touch of coconut on the outside and served with avocado coleslaw, salsa, sour cream and tortillas. The portion was easily enough for four tacos.
The staff knows their beers and is quick to recommend the right one to go with your taste buds. Some of the best breweries in Louisiana are represented here, and you won’t go wrong trying a few of the latest on draft, bottles and cans. Duck in on LSU game day, and you’ll find a $5 corn dog and Pabst Blue Ribbon or Champagne special, and it might be the best $5 you’ll spend. And if mixed drinks are more your style, you’re going to want to try the frozen Moscow mule.
The noise level inside can be loud, which can be festive at dinner but tough to talk over a table at a busy lunch. If you plan on grabbing a seat outside, longtime patrons of bars and restaurants in the Perkins Road overpass area might be used to the noisy rush of cars and trucks speeding above on Interstate 10. But it can be loud and seems best meant for a raucous patio crowd.
If you’ve tried Overpass Merchant, you’re probably already making plans to go back. If you haven’t given the eatery a try, you should make plans to go soon because there are only so many LSU game days left this year, and that corn dog is calling.
THE OVERPASS MERCHANT
2904 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge
HOURS: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
INFO: theoverpassmerchant.com or (225) 508-4737
PROS: Easily one of the best burgers in town; the Hot Lonnie; and staff is knowledgeable when it comes to beers and drinks.
CONS: Salad #3; can be a little loud inside.