Descending the stairs to Bandwagon Brew Pub for the first time feels a little like going to a secret underground club—that exciting anticipation of not knowing what to expect behind closed doors. The sounds of bustling Latin music from the restaurant filled the air when the doors swung open, foreshadowing a fun and filling dining experience.
Bandwagon, which opened in fall 2009 and was formerly a Jamaican restaurant called Yah Mon!, is around the corner from the State Theatre at the end of the Commons strip. It’s isolated from the lively “restaurant row” of North Aurora, making for a tamer and less crowded external environment. Bandwagon, only open for dinner after 7 p.m., offers a casual, innovative dining experience and a great escape from the rowdy college bars on the Commons.
The interior of Bandwagon is homey but not cramped. There are about a dozen tables and a bar area in the middle of the space. At full capacity, as it was on a Saturday night, the smallness created a cozy, intimate feeling. Modern Pollock-inspired “splatter” paintings give the traditional brick walls a splash of color and the restaurant a more contemporary feel overall. In the back of the seating area, a glass display window showcases Bandwagon’s beer selection. Bandwagon brews its own beer (right onsite!), with seasonal flavors such as Watermelon Ale for the summer and Pumpkin Ale for the fall.
Bandwagon’s atmosphere is comfortable and inviting. The lights are dim but not so dark that you have trouble reading the menu. The fun, worldly tunes were just loud enough to enjoy without interfering with dinner table banter.
My friends and I started off with drinks. Making a decision was tough because of the vast drink menu. I decided to go for the home brewed Commons Ale, a light and slightly sweet number that worked well with all the eclectic dishes. On a separate drinks-only visit, I ordered the Bandwagon flight, which I highly recommend. Five generously filled glasses are served on a wooden platter, aligned in a light-to-dark gradient of brews. The most noteworthy beer from this selection was Bandwagon’s home-brewed Raspberry-Jalapeño. This beer was serious. Subtle hints of fruity raspberries and a spicy infusion of jalapeño create a distinctive beer experience. Bandwagon also has a variety of specialty cocktails, including a tasty mojito, with the perfect amount of sweetness and a plentiful helping of fresh mint leaves.
Bandwagon’s food menu is an ecclectic slew of starters and entrees that take inspiration from many different cuisines. The menu highlights dishes featuring local veggies, identifying the respective farm in the margin. In an eco- and food-conscious environment like Ithaca, this is definitely a clever tactic on Bandwagon’s part and a great way to support locally grown produce. Mains run from $11 to $20, and a meal can be made even more economical by sharing a couple of big dishes and appetizers between friends. Bandwagon is half-bar, half-restaurant, and the menu indicates what dishes are available until last call at 1 a.m. Don’t worry about leaving hungry: The portions are very generous.
Bandwagon’s fries unanimously stole the show. Crisped and salted to perfection on the outside, with a smooth, starchy center, these fries are hard to resist. Three dipping sauces served in dainty white bowls accompany each heaping plate. Ketchup, (or “catsup”, as stated on the menu) was a given, but the other two sauces, a creamy, rich malt vinegar aioli and a flavorsome curry dip, add an ethnic flare to classic American fries. The second-favorite starter was the Asian-Latin fusion egg rolls. The tender pulled pork is balanced by succulent, slightly crunchy cabbage and accompanied by a sweet and tangy, Asian-inspired chili sauce. The crispy, fried egg roll shell and the tender center complemented each other beautifully.
These dishes were delectable, but not everything wowed my taste buds. The Commons Ale and smoked gouda bread with parsley garlic butter was a letdown. The bread was dry, and the muted beer and cheese flavors did not make up for its poor texture. The main entrée, seared Ahi tuna with ginger-chile marinade over jasmine rice and stir-fried local sweet peppers, was decent, but slightly disappointing. The tuna itself was cooked perfectly; it was slightly seared on the outside, and its flushed pink center was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. However, the sides were bland and took away from the fresh, flavorful fish.
Whether you stop in for a quick pint, try the burger and appetizer menu on a Monday night, or go for a full meal, Bandwagon Brew Pub provides a pleasant drinking and dining experience. The service is quick, and everyone is friendly and accommodating. One thing to keep in mind at Bandwagon is, if asked, “Would you like fries with that?”, the answer is yes—you would definitely like some fries with that.
Lucy Ravich is a senior CMD major who is as spicy as a pint of Raspberry-Jalapeño beer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.