Update: Sadly, Driftwood has relocated to St.Louis. You can find the team behind Driftwood at their new place.
We’d like to introduce you to our resident food, drink and entertainment, columnist Emmiline Blackwell. She’ll be providing readers of Eighteen21.com with her take on dining; from classy cocktails to fusion food in Springfield and further afield.
Full disclosure, I am not from Central Illinois. I was not born nor did I grow up amongst the flatlands where soybeans and corn grow in abundance. But, for reasons of the heart I find myself as a resident of Springfield, Illinois and it feels like home a little more every day.
Upon arrival to this place you are quickly versed in two things; the greatness of Abraham Lincoln and the lore of the “Horseshoe.” I get Abraham Lincoln but to be honest I still find the “Horseshoe” or the smaller and slightly more enduring version the “Pony shoe” to be perplexing concoctions. Both of these items appear on the menu of every “Irish” pub and every other pub themed pub in town. Want to get into a fistfight in a bar? No problem, just begin a discussion about who serves the best horseshoe in this town. While I will never debate the necessity or brilliance of a good runny cheese sauce I started asking, in the tonal qualities of the 1960s singer Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”
The musings that follow are the result of my quests to satisfy my inner foodie in Springfield, Illinois and beyond.
At the end of a long workweek, the thought of pre-heating the oven to bake a pizza can feel a bit overwhelming. So, our Friday night tends to begin with both of us acting like independent voters when trying to select where to go to dinner, neither one of us holding a strong opinion. Eventually one of us manages to sell our idea with some nuanced promise of enjoyment and the other caves. Finally, we decided on Driftwood Cocktail & Eatery.
Driftwood is located on Old State Capital Plaza in downtown Springfield. Upon entering we see approximately six people scattered amongst the restaurant. The restaurant features a prominent bar with a general seating area. We decided to sit at the bar because “life is more entertaining at the bar.” (That slogan should probably go on a t-shirt.) We are promptly handed two menus by the bartender, a cheery man wearing a vest and bow tie who introduced himself as Joel.
We begin perusing the cocktail menu. Now, if the thought of preheating the oven was overwhelming to me viewing pages and pages of craft cocktails almost bring me to tears. I just need a drink. So I ask Joel what he recommends. He queries our like and dislikes and suggests the Moscow Mule for myself and Manhattan for my company. What we observed after ordering our drinks was nothing short of magical. Joel crushed the ice for my drink with a mallet, lit the peel of an orange on fire to blacken it and used fresh herbs procured from his own garden. The result was two beautifully balanced craft cocktails. We were impressed.
On to the next order of business, which was food. Driftwood does not have a conventional menu. There is no burger, house salad, French fries or runny cheese sauce offerings here. It is a small plate or tapas style menu encouraging people to order multiple plates to share. The menu is ever evolving to feature the freshest seasonal ingredients.
As we looked over the menu Joel enthusiastically says, “Order the green beans!” What? Green beans, really? You are telling me that a food my parents force-fed me as a child is now something to recommend without reservation? C’mon, really? But, given the brilliant cocktails and the desire to live on the edge, we went for it. The green beans arrived at the bar in a timely fashion on a wooden platter with black eye peas, an umami sauce, and peanut corn honey ($8). And I stand corrected, these beans were delicious and not in a conventional vegetable way. They were salty, sweet, and slightly spicy making these the most flavorful green beans I have ever had.
After our taste buds returned to earth we ordered and enjoyed the roasted tomato and goat cheese dip with flatbread ($10). The freshness of the tomatoes was apparent and delightful. Warning: if you don’t like goat cheese don’t order this dish; you will hate it as much as going to Thanksgiving dinner with the stomach flu.
To round out the meal we ordered the pretzel crusted cheese curds with a mustard BBQ and buttermilk dressing ($8) and the pickled shrimp with jalapeno, bell peppers, dill and shaved fennel in olive oil ($12). The fried cheese curds could have been served a little hotter on the temperature side. Although I will chalk this up as an anomaly and suggest ordering them when you visit. It is fried cheese after all. Finally the pickled shrimp, they were served cold in a jar. It was an interesting presentation since I typically avoid eating anything out of a jar, much less seafood. The dill and fennel made this dish bright and fresh. The jalapeno was a little heavy handed for me, but I could avoid the pieces with strategic deployment of my fork.
On this visit, we did not opt for dessert, but they did have some intriguing and unconventional options, which would definitely add to the adventure of dining here.
Bottom Line: Driftwood is offering some of the most creative cocktails and food in Springfield. As for Joel the bartender; learn his name and demand that he make you a drink. Oh, and GET THE GREEN BEANS!
Overall Rating: three out of four stars
Price: $$ ($35-$45 per person)