Beer cans are stacked like a castle on one table, towering over the heads of the group gathered by the mural that reads “Willie for president,” with a winking portrait of the musical (and marijuana) icon. Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band are on the stereo. At first glance, you know this place is a down home good time. But unlike its predecessor, music venue Clarendon Grill, which closed in 2018, The Pinemoor has ambitions of serving food that makes it a destination, even when music isn’t on the menu.
“We’re going for a Southern country theme,” owner Reese Gardner told when The Pinemoor opened in July. “It’s an all-scratch menu, just like the two Cooperwoods.” He was talking about Copperwood Tavern, his other restaurant, which is also farm-to-table and has a number of menu items in common.
This is all laudable, but when I visited in October, both the kitchen and concept could still use some honing. On my first visit, on a quiet Tuesday evening, I was pleased with the popcorn my friendly server brought to the table before I ordered. Buttery and earthy with chile powder, it was a great way to start the meal. But while my appetizers came out quickly, both were a disappointment, despite the great two-for-one app deal before 7 p.m. on weekdays.
The Country Caviar, which sits at the top of the menu, presumably a marquis item, was basically pico de gallo with beans in it. Some of the warm, homemade potato chips that came with it were crisp, others were flaccid and stuck together. Even the best ones aren’t really up to the task of scooping up the big beans. Fried goat cheese with jalapeno honey are oversized blobs of cheese that prove to be as overwhelming as eating, well, big chunks of fried goat cheese. The honey on the side is strangely watered down and betrays little spice.
Fortunately, other appetizers are the highlights. Meaty little bacon-Bourbon meatballs are just sweet enough to make me almost forget their price of $11 for four petite orbs. One of the best things I ate across my meals at The Pinemoor was the short rib appetizer. I would recommend sizing it up as an entree. With its tender ancho chile braised beef, creamy cheese grits and fun topping of crunch fried shallots, it’s worthy of a gut-busting portion.
On the whole, entrees are the most successful part of The Pinemoor’s menu. Fried chicken is moist and just a bit tangy thanks to a buttermilk brine. The ultra-crunchy jacket isn’t heavily seasoned, but it admirably survives the gush of scorching juices that accompany each bite. The hot honey that comes on the side isn’t thin like the one with the fried goat cheese and the Sriracha blue cheese is a lip-tingling delight, but really, the poultry is capable of standing on its own. The coleslaw that comes with it is tasteless and slightly wilted, so it’s important to order a side. The most impressive of these is the ultra-smooth, rich smoked Gouda mashed potatoes, which taste more like they belong at a fancy French restaurant than as a side for fried chicken.
They go great with the grass-fed ribeye, too. At $36, it’s an expensive steak, probably too expensive for its own good, especially when it requires ordering sides to supplement its toppings of Burgundy sauce and herb butter. But I couldn’t help but sigh happily as I cut into the ruby-colored meat.
Chef Jonathan Campos’ way with beef is even more clear with a taste of the Pinemoor Burger. The eight-ounce patty is cooked to a juicy medium-rare as requested, but the fluffy egg-washed bun holds even greater assets. The most appealing of these is a pimento cheese that synthesizes with the juicy beef and crispy bacon as it melts. Red wine-shallot aioli contributes its own creamy delights. The fries could use a hair more time in the fryer, but, topped with fresh parsley, they satisfy nonetheless.
The menu isn’t all indulgence. Two slices of Chesapeake Bay rockfish form a lighter meal that’s still big enough to merit leftovers. The pan-seared filets had a fishy odor that worried me, but their taste is mild, ready to be brightened with cucumber relish and a jalapeno-dill sauce that encircles the plate, ready to cover not just the fish, but the pile of quinoa speckled with cucumbers and tomatoes beneath it.
Tuesday nights, The Pinemoor offers a free dessert for every entree ordered. The Tuesday I was there, it was a vegan apple-cranberry pie from Acme Pie Co. The zippy fruit combo was pleasant if unmemorable, with a crust that wasn’t as flaky as one might get from the addition of butter or lard, but perfectly acceptable. I preferred the homemade bread pudding, which was excessively moist but enormous, almost meriting its $10 price tag.
Like the food, service is a mixed bag at The Pinemoor. When it’s quiet and the team isn’t overwhelmed, it’s still not perfect — my server accidentally overcharged me the first time he brought my bill, but quickly repaired the matter. On a busy Friday, I was told that I would have to wait at least an hour for a table despite the fact that I had a reservation. Strangely, when my companion and I protested, they eventually “found” us a booth.
Some of this can be forgotten with a drink, courtesy of beverage director, Jody Hessler. He’s crafted cocktails including The Pierson Grey, named for Gardner’s son. It blends Grey Goose with pear, ginger and rosemary, as well as whipped eggs. Walking After Midnight uses Midnight Moon blackberry moonshine house pear reduction, St. Germain and bubbles to make one of the fanciest moonshine cocktails around.
There’s no question that The Pinemoor is fun, but the menu and service is still in need of some sharpening. Still, order up some short ribs and fried chicken, and relax into the country vibe and it’s easy to see why the new restaurant is already attracting a crowd. // 1101 N. Highland St., Arlington
See this: Enter to the view of a mural of Willie Nelson. After that, there are planters made from the backs of vintage trucks, an oversized photo of Johnny Cash, and cozy couches.
Eat this: Short ribs, fried chicken, smoked Gouda mashed potatoes
★ Fair ★★ Good ★★★ Great ★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Superior