"Just enough Punk Rock, fuck you attitude, that it works." This is how Jason Bodley, owner of Oak and Alley Public House, described his friend, and head chef Nathan Freiburger. However, I would go so far as to say that this is a pretty good metaphor, for their whole operation. Which is a really good thing, in case that wasn't totally clear.
Oak and Alley sits in a literal alley, in the unapologetically quaint downtown, of Warsaw, Indiana. The location alone speaks to their dedication, and willingness to let the craft speak for itself. You have to look for it, or know someone who knows someone. There is no big flashy window, or pirate laden banners, touting game times and yellow beer specials wooing you in. For gods sakes, the only sign on the outside of the building says "Books"! Which, to be fair, Jason does say is coming down. Seriously though, before you even get inside, they've got you. Unless of course, you were looking to share half time with the Captain. In which case, you took a wrong turn, and should probably head back out towards the street.
Once inside O&A, it is obvious what they are all about. Not a t.v in sight; just good music, plenty of seats, and big ol' bar, to belly right up to. Oh, and a little hole in the wall, just so people can catch a glimpse of Nathan banging away in the kitchen. Don't want anyone to forget that there is more than one show going on in there. Which is easily done here. The sounds of real cocktails, being made in the proper fashion, commands some serious attention.
To look at this very thoughtful, and extremely professional operation, it would probably come as a shock that O&A wasn't the brainchild of some wealthy townie, with a taste for craft cocktails and well executed small plates. Nope, like most good things, the roots of O&A come from finding your true calling, somewhat by accident. It's actually a pretty good story, but for the sake of everyone with short attention spans (mostly me); I will paraphrase:
Good job. Not fulfilling.
Decided to try something out that would allow for some creative freedom.
Got pretty good at it. Realized this should be new job.
Met a like- minded individual, who also shared a similar desire.
Worked hard. Stars aligned.
Some other shit happened.
Voila', Oak and Alley
People like to throw around the term "passionate", which is not uncalled for when talking about what they do everyday. However, just one more thing I loved about these guys is a shared disdain for the use, and overuse of labels. So, instead of saying that O&A is a bunch Of "passionate mixologist, foodies", I will instead say they are talented barmen, and chefs, with a strong desire to showcase their work, with the best ingredients, and techniques they know. Top notch.
So, let's talk about what it is that they actually do (finally, I know). On our recent trip, we were lucky enough to sample several things from both menus. Both menus being, cocktail, and food. And after trying so many offerings, I can honestly say, I couldn't find one thing out of place. Believe me, I tried. Not that I wanted to find fault; quite the opposite, actually. It's just that when presented with this seemingly perfect storm, of doing things right, it couldn't all be good. Could it? Yeah, apparently it can. O&A=1, Skeptical John=0. Sorry for doubting, fellas.
While the idea of small plates, paired with good cocktails is certainly not a new one, they definitely make it their own. O&A is an oasis, in a severely under-served market (that's Northeast Indiana, in case you were wondering), and they do not take it for granted. I cannot emphasize enough the attention to detail they put into each and every thing that comes from behind that bar, or through that little window. Each ingredient (sourced locally, if possible. Duh) has a purpose, and has probably been changed 2 dozen times before they even thought about putting it on the menu. This became apparent as I was musing over the stellar presentation on one of our Blackberry/Gin fizz. I was commenting on how flawless it was, while Jason was spotting things to tweak, and tinker with. It's all in the details!
This sentiment rang true throughout our entire visit. From the perfectly balanced, beef heart tostada, to the cleverly combined beet and pineapple shrub. Everything was done with purpose, without unnecessary filler. They let the ingredients speak for themselves, they just help them to find a voice. Which also perfectly describes the staff. What you see is what you get. Hospitality is in abundance, and they let you know that they are there to make sure you feel welcome, and have a really good time. And believe me, you will.
If you are smart, you will stay up to date on all of the exciting things these guys have in store for the future. Whether it's an outdoor festival, a rooftop garden menu, or just a new cocktail, you need to make sure it's on your radar. So, start here Oak and Alley and Facebook, then plan yourself a little trip. You can thank us later.