The Village Idiot has done a great job creating a fun, relaxed, urban atmosphere in its spot on Short Street downtown. Eating brunch on a beautiful morning out on the sidewalk with a friend was a great way to people-watch — those passing by and the commentary from some raucous fellow diners. At dinner another night, my companion and I sat by a window upstairs in a room free of televisions, with a view onto Cheapside and, in the next room, the convivial bar.
I make these points because I often find the atmosphere in otherwise good restaurants distracting: too loud, perpetual TVs, no relationship with the surroundings. As a pub, The Village Idiot has created a space that feels like somewhere to escape the pressures of the day and relax. As a restaurant, it is a place where you should go with equally relaxed expectations. Some of the food I had was good, some was uninspired, and almost all of it was really rich.
The menu is set up so it's easy to go have a couple of drinks and better-than-average bar food at the beginning or end of an evening. I think that's probably the sweet spot for people who want to visit The Village Idiot, because as a full dinner, it was just too much. On both visits, I came away with take-home boxes because we simply couldn't finish what we'd ordered.
So, for the standouts: the french fries ($7 for a large serving with four dipping sauces), which Village Idiot calls pommes frites (I don't know if that means idiots can read French but ...). Fried potatoes, let's face it, when done well, are an entrancing food. And they do them well at Village Idiot. Cutting an actual potato, as opposed to pulling a package out of a freezer, means there is a variation in shapes. That in turn means variations when they are cooked, from the perfectly fried, just caramel-colored to the thinner ends that are crisp and almost burnt. It keeps you interested, and the generous salt on them keeps you drinking from the lovely selection of beers (although my first choice was not available. More on this later.)
We also were very happy with the lamb sliders ($12), four mini-burgers of ground lamb dressed with caramelized onions, an aioli, and orange chutney on lovely yeasty rolls. For main courses at dinner, we had the simplest hamburger ($11), which was quite good but not cooked on the rare side of medium rare as ordered — and promised — and duck and waffles ($22), a signature main dish that combines a fried duck leg confit (a leg and thigh combination that's been preserved and flavored in fat) with a savory waffle drenched in cane syrup and topped with what are described as candied jalapeños (I tasted mostly the heat and not the candy). The duck is very, very good, but I was not taken by the waffle, and to my taste, the syrup made the whole thing too sweet, although my companion liked that aspect. My suggestion is to ask for at least some of the syrup on the side.
Brunch was less satisfying. The Italian doughnuts ($5) were tasty sweet fritters served with an espresso-chocolate sauce. For the main courses — catfish and grits ($14) and chilaquiles ($12), fried eggs with pulled pork and black beans dressed with queso fresco, avocado, red onion, cilantro and salsa — the sum was less than the parts.
A few other comments. In addition to the missing beer, we were told at lunch that they were out of iced tea, something that seems easily replenishable. Service was relaxed to nonexistent at brunch, when we had to flag down a passing server to even get water. The orange juice at brunch ($2) tasted like frozen reconstituted. At dinner, an odd thing happened. We ordered a garlic-and-rocket side salad for ($2 extra) with the duck but got an ordinary mixed salad. The waiter acknowledged that he'd made a mistake and brought out a full serving of the correct salad. Imagine my surprise to find a $4.20 charge for that salad. Although it was discounted from the full charge of $6, we still paid extra for the restaurant's mistake.