Having heard such foreboding utterances as “it’s like Ed Hardy threw up in there,” I must say I was quite relieved by my own first venture into Ink N Ivy. Where I had feared a schizophrenic, technicolor tattoo hallucination, the open space is surprisingly low-key, with high ceilings, subdued tones, and an appropriate number of quirky touches. Yes, the Elizabethan-style dog portraits are creepy. Don’t focus on that, as otherwise the place brings to mind a hipster version of The Ordinary.
Food-wise, however, things veer more ordinary and decidedly ‘tweaked bar food’ in flavor and approach. Although my waitress strongly recommended the King Street nachos ($12) — made with potato chips and pimento cheese — as well as the quesadilla filled with smoked pulled chicken ($12), I started with the shrimp tacos ($12).
Three flour tortillas house two battered shrimp apiece, plus grilled onions, poblanos, and bell peppers. The peppers were still quite crisp and the crunch kept it fresh. Topped with slivers of avocado and a cilantro-spiked crema, it’s a Tex Mex-influenced riff on the usual. Yes, the fire-roasted tomato salsa borders on Italian and some tart fresh lime might’ve been nice, but overall this is a pleasing dish and a large enough portion to comprise a meal.
Meanwhile, the smoked chicken wings ($11) materialize as a stack of 10 grilled wings coated in your choice of honey sriracha, classic buffalo, or maple mustard glaze. I chose the buffalo sauce, which wasn’t terribly reminiscent of the customary Frank’s Red Hot/butter/Worcestershire combo of Anchor Bar origins. Rather, the sauce functions as something of a glaze, immediately slipping off the chicken and congealing on the plate. The meat itself is tender, with notable smoky flavor, but the skin is flabbier than typical fried buffalo wings. It’s hard to say, but perhaps selecting another sauce option may render things more satisfying?
Similarly, consider requesting a light hand with the dry sherry, as the she crab soup ($6 cup/$8 bowl) was downright boozy. I appreciate a touch of Amontillado as much as the next guy, but this could honestly be described as a floater. That’s truly a shame as it otherwise may have been the crabbiest bisque — chockablock with thick pieces in each mouthful — I’ve ever encountered. Let that booze cook off a little or leave it off the top altogether, and this is otherwise a lovely, decadent option.
My friendly server raved about the classic caesar salad ($5 small/$7 large, meats additional) and she wasn’t kidding. Romaine lettuce is dressed in a garlicky caesar dressing rich with hints of buttermilk. Topped with some homemade croutons and a copious amount of grated Parmesan cheese, if you’re looking to gain five pounds via a five dollar salad … Well, game on.
The Pasta Jambalaya ($18) is interesting, mostly in a good way. As you know, much like clam chowder, there are two general varieties of jambalaya: Creole and Cajun, the former of which uses tomatoes. Ink N Ivy is of the Manhattan variety, as it were. In addition to the holy trinity of peppers, onions, and celery, there are also the perceptible elements of paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Topped with four shrimp, as well as an assortment of chopped smoked chicken, pork tenderloin, and andouille sausage, the otherwise fairly traditional preparation is served over linguine. Arguably simpler to assemble than an actual jambalaya, it’s a little out of left field, but still a dependable way to get your Creole on.
Last up, the salmon BLT ($16) is mostly a winner, featuring a large brioche bun filled with a beautifully cooked filet of salmon. It’s topped with bibb lettuce, a slice of tomato, and two thin strips of tough pork belly heavy with smoke flavor and cooked within an inch of their lives. Lacking any fatty unctuousness, it begs the question: Why bother? Use real bacon or skip it altogether, as the salmon is enough to carry the day. The soft brioche is slathered with a bright lemon dill mayo, further accenting the lush fish.
A little bit zany, a whole lot bar food, and not nearly the psychotropic, yin yang trip through time I feared, Ink N Ivy offers a dependable way to soak up some booze or recover from too much the night before in a space that’s a little self-consciously decorated, but in a way that’s (happily) far more Angelina Jolie than Ed Sheeran.