Gatlin Hall Brewing has finally opened on South Orange Avenue and with it two new concepts – Willy’s Original and Frenchy’s Wood-Fired – from the team that owns and operates Big Fin Seafood Kitchen and Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe. And the new brands couldn’t be more diametric to the existing full-service restaurants.
But their offerings are certainly familiar. Willy’s offers a line of smash burgers and it’s pizzas that are wood fired at Frenchy’s. They are two-thirds of the dining options, along with Da Kine Poke, at the food hall, which is anchored by the brewing facility.
It’s a big boxy space with the food vendors lined up next to each other on one of the short ends looking out at the communal open-seating area and bar on one of the long walls. Those seated at the bar can look past the numerous taps to see the array of polished chrome that is the brewing facility.
On the end opposite from where Willy’s and Frenchy’s operate, a garage-style door opens to an outdoor beer garden space with additional seating and play areas.
When I was invited recently to see the new facilities, Willy’s had been operating for a couple of weeks but Frenchy’s was preparing to start taking orders that day.
I sampled two of the burger selections, the All American and the Steakhouse. The former was made with a double stack of the angus beef patties. A thick slice of tomato and some pickles sat under the meat, which was topped with melted cheese and a creamy sauce. It may have been a bespoke bun – it seemed custom-sized for the patties (and fresh, too). Despite it being a smash-type burger, the insides still had a bid of juicy redness, which I appreciated.
The burger called the Steakhouse may be a bit of a misnomer. To me it conjured up an image of perhaps a small filet instead of ground beef. Instead it was a larger, single burger topped with thick rashers of applewood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese, plus the expected accouterments of lettuce, tomato and pickles.
Willy’s also serves a crispy chicken sandwich called the Crispy Chicken. It was an ample breast with a buttermilk breading, nicely fried and served in a manner befitting its name.
The menu also features a hot dog called the Big Willy for those of you who look for Freud in your frankfurters.
Next door at Frenchy’s Pizza Bar, the pies are hand stretched without attempting to achieve circumferential precision.
Although operationally Frenchy’s was just getting up and running, the product quality is already first rate. The crust had an excellent elasticity for just the right chew. (Later, trying a slice that had cooled, I was surprised by the effort needed to stretch the crust enough to tear it.) The pizzas are cooked in a large wood-fired kiln with a massive turntable like some sort of medieval microwave oven.
Here, the favorite was the Frenchy, which had sauteed onions, bits of lardons, and dollops of brie for that baiser français. (By the way, co-owner Philippe Villain, who is French, told me there are more pizzerias in France than in Italy.)
For a more conventional pie, try the pepperoni with pepperoncinis. The little cups of meat had a nice spice and the peppers added a pickled punch.
Food can be ordered at the counters – there are menu screens overhead – or via a QR code on the tables in the hall. After ordering and paying, customers are given a pager that alerts them to return to the counter to get their food. Gatlin Hall Brewing staff tend to keeping the tables bused.