There’s dog friendly, and then there’s Mainland Container Co.
“Four-legged friends!?” my dining companion read aloud, visibly aghast. “Why would they write it like that? That’s horrible! And chickens don’t have four… Oh.”
Yep. Mainland Container has items on the menu for your pets, specifically a grilled, unseasoned chicken breast ($6) or a burger ($6) cut into bite-size pieces.
If you or your four-legged companion have any kind of knee problems, however, it’s going to be decidedly difficult to get into the main building. Hidden at the end of a gravel drive off Ben Sawyer Boulevard, one must traverse up a steep flight of stairs to the rustic, beachy restaurant. Outside there’s a ground-level bar set in a shipping container, plus ample umbrella-covered seating.
The menu is far-reaching, straddling the hemispheres of current farm-to-table trends and greasy bar fare. With a nod to the latter, the five golf ball-sized hush puppies ($7) are basically savory donuts, drizzled with honey, and served with hot pepper jelly and pimento cheese. Said cheese dip is smooth and mild, with chunks of cream cheese in the mix. YOLO.
On that note, the decadent bar food offerings also include wings ($12 for 10) in a variety of flavors, and a beer cheese-covered tater tot extravaganza called The Full Container ($12). Elvis wishes he’d lived long enough to see this.
Despite such temptations, the sweet and friendly waitress strongly endorsed the Caprese-stuffed avocado ($9), a clever union of the current avocado trend and the traditional salad from Capri. The two cold, firm avocado halves are served on a bed of arugula. Topped with cubed tomatoes and mozzarella chunks and then drizzled with balsamic and creamy pesto sauces, it’s a wonderfully fresh and satisfying dish made doubly pleasing by its availability at what’s essentially a bar.
The Mexican shrimp cocktail ($12) has good intentions, but you know what they say about that. This unbalanced concoction finds five weirdly metallic shrimp lurking at the bottom of a soupy, vinegary tomato salsa in imagined shame. Avocados are mentioned on the menu, but didn’t make it to the party, which is too bad, as they may have helped to tame the strong flavors of chopped green olives and whole coriander pods. Served with six slices of lackluster crostini, one imagines tortilla chips would be a better choice all around. Still, with some adjustments, this could be more like the traditional Northern Mexican preparation I was expecting.
When David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook came out in 2009, his steamed buns with roasted pork belly and pickled cucumbers showed up on every Pan-Asian menu in the English-speaking world. Mainland Container Co. may want to revisit the original recipe, as their char sui buns ($11) are clearly Chang-inspired, yet fall short. Tough and quite salty — and somehow lacking the requisite Chinese Five Spice flavor indicative of char sui — the pork belly itself is a disappointment. Although the two steamed buns are nicely executed, an odd and incongruous peanut butter element in the ‘dijon slaw’ overwhelms everything. I soon wished I’d spent the money on the items in the four-legged friends section instead.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen ratatouille ($14) on a bar menu, and it’s appearance here should serve as indisputable proof of the daring of the chef. At Mainland Container, the traditional French provencal dish is reimagined as something of a shared appetizer and served with the same cheerless crostini that burden the shrimp cocktail. Seemingly made from leftover hamburger buns drizzled with oil and sprinkled with paprika, a baguette would be a vast improvement.
The ratatouille itself features big chunks of green and yellow zucchini squash, skin-on eggplant cubes and broccoli florets in a tomato sauce. Somebody in the kitchen really, really loves black pepper and the net product is so bracingly hot as to be reminiscent of a dish from the Sichuan province. Topped with chunks of mozzarella, it’s an interesting idea that doesn’t quite work.
The double container burger ($12) is apparently the most popular offering on the menu, and the bang for your buck is undeniable. If your tater tot experiences have been limited to the baking of the frozen orbs on a metal sheet in your oven, then prepare for a bombshell. MCC’s crisp and crunchy tots are in generous supply, fried in duck fat, and as deliciously extravagant as that sounds.
Made with a Martin’s potato roll and loaded with tangy beer cheese, the burger also sounds lavish. However, and despite the inclusion of pork belly in the ground beef mixture and my request for medium temperature, the two thin patties were extremely overcooked. Considering the hard char on one side, this isn’t terribly surprising. Simple solution? Make a single patty and voila, this burger would be a slam dunk.
In contrast, the fish of the moment ($22) requires no modifications. Here, a thick cut of fresh wahoo is liberally coated in lemon pepper and pan fried. Plated on rich, creamy grits and topped with piquant chow chow, it’s a successful execution made even better by the accompanying seasonal vegetables. The mix of smoky asparagus, zucchini, and brussels sprouts is complemented by sautéed onions and chanterelle mushrooms. Along with the caprese avocado dish, the flavor balance of this fish showcases the chef’s obvious command of farm-to-table cuisine.
Nonetheless, and despite these successes, Mainland Container Company’s ambitious menu may be a bit too zealous, with several dishes falling quite short. In contrast, the deep fried options seem to be the safer bet, for now anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with that. With house cocktails served in Bud Light glasses, Hells Bells playing overhead, and some boisterous four-letter language emanating from the open kitchen, this is mostly a bar and maybe not so family-friendly. Four-legged friends, on the other hand, are emphatically welcome.