On Saturday night, hubby and I decided to head over to one of our favorite little spots, Clusters & Hops. Or, Cork & Bottle, as he likes to call it because he's so terribly bad at remembering names. I'm lucky most days if he doesn't call me by our dog's name! Anyway, I digress. Located on Monroe St., right before it branches off to Thomasville Rd, it's probably one of those places you've driven past a thousand times and never given it a second thought. It doesn't help that it's located right next to a Sleep Mattress superstore that takes up most of the real estate, and Clusters & Hops is relegated only to a tiny corner. But what it lacks in size, it definitely makes up for in taste!
Posted by Tally Foodie Sunday, July 12, 2009
During the day, it's a gourmet cheese, wine and meat retail shop, although I was just informed that they are now serving lunch Mon - Sat from 11am - 3pm as well. And at night, they turn into a dark, romantic little restaurant, the likes of which you'd expect to see in Philadelphia or New York. A word to the wise - they only have about 10 tables inside and 2 outside, so get there early to secure a seat. And make sure if you sit outside, you pop your head in the restaurant to let them know you're out there!
We arrived at about 6pm and took our usual table behind the bar. Jazz music filters in through hidden speakers, but it's simply a backdrop - loud enough to be pleasant, but not loud enough so that conversation is impossible. I ordered my usual - the Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon Steak Diane with black truffle maytag blue cheese, wild mushrooms, roasted potatoes and asparagus. And my husband went out on a limb ordering the Parmesan Crusted Ostrich Filet and Sliced Duet of Duck Breast. He rarely orders things this exotic and I had to commend his selection. He'd never had either of those delicacies before, but the waiter assured us that he would not be disappointed. I was holding my breath.
Another important thing to note about Clusters & Hops - there are only 1-2 cooks in the kitchen on any given night, so be prepared to wait for your food. Especially if the place is packed. So do like they do in France, order a glass of wine, sit back, relax and enjoy the pleasure of good company. Or you can grab a bottle of wine off their shelves and for a $7.50 corking fee, the staff will cork the wine, decant it, if necessary, and re-cork it for you if you don't drink it all before you leave. All in all, not a bad deal, especially if you've got a big group dining out.
Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon Steak Diane
Parmesan Crusted Ostrich Filet and Sliced Duet of Duck Breast
The food presentation is nothing short of an art form at Clusters & Hops. They always take extra special care to make sure the food looks extra appetizing before bringing it out to your table (which probably also contributes to the wait), but boy, is it worth it. I dug into my filet like I hadn't eaten all day and my husband tentatively tried his duck and ostrich. The filet is always to die for, which is why I can't seem to order anything else off the menu whenever I go there. But if you don't like blue cheese - don't even chance it. It's definitely drenched in blue-cheesy goodness from the first bite to the last. And while my husband was proud of himself for trying the duck and ostrich, he confided to me after we left the restaurant that he'd probably never order it again. He described the ostrich as a bit gamey and he said that for the duck duo - one tasted like chicken, the other like sausage - but neither was as good. He generally gets the Panko Crusted Ahi Tuna and I'm sure that next time we go he'll be back to his usual order as well.
Their signature dish, which we've had before, but not on this particular occasion, is the White Truffle Mac-n-Cheese, which is definitely not kids stuff. They put fontina, gruyere, and parmesan cheese in with the pasta combined with white and black truffles for a distinctive flavor. It definitely makes for a rich and sinful appetizer, any day of the week.
Tally Foodie Rating:
Atmosphere - A
Taste - A++
Service - A+
Presentation - A+
Price - $$
Clusters & Hops
707 N. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32303
Retail Shop Hours: Mon - Sat, 1pm - 11:30pm
Restaurant Hours: Mon - Sat, 11am - 3pm for Lunch, 5pm - 11:30pm for Dinner