The eagle flies on Friday; Saturday I go out and play…
— T-Bone Walker, ‘Stormy Monday’
I sometimes wonder if I’m a little too easy to please. Case in point – I liked Morganfield’s before I’ve had any of the food, before I’ve even really seen the menu. It’s not so much what it looks like – comfy benches, clangy, heavy metal chairs, a small forest’s worth of wood panelling all around the interior, contrasting with the sleek bar that slouches at the entrance. It’s a polished, dapper attempt at looking easy and down-home.
Elsewhere, maybe this would raise my hackles just a little. But then the soundtrack makes up for it, and more. I love blues music; the twelve-bar blues is to music what the sonnet form is to poetry, an apparently strict and simple framework that turns out to hold endless creativity. It’s about the softest of my soft spots, mellow yet mischievous.
And like the tradition of soul food that Morganfield’s promises, it is an art of the marginalised, the poor and formerly enslaved. Not that you would guess it from looking at the menu – an impressive list of American beers leads the way, and the dishes are zhuzhed up, forsaking the grittier, odds-and-ends ingredients – trotters, chitter for things like wagyu steak. And there’s also that thing about the sticky bones – they’ve only plastered it in massive, bulb-lit letters on the wall, is all.
To start, king mushrooms, sliced and sauteed, are a light and amiable dish, the mushrooms crunchy and slippery with bits of fibrousness. The grated Parmesan, besides lending its distinctive aroma, strikes a low, rich note of umami to complement the garlic butter. There’s also a hint of astringency, something sharp and alcoholic and even a little bitter in there. My best guess is that it belongs to the merlot in the menu description.
Alternatively, it’s possible, even if unlikely, that the astringency might have just carried over from the beer. The Stone Go-To IPA hails from California, relatively closer to the centre of American hops production in Washington state, and it damn well shows. It is ‘fruity’ in the same way that eating a grapefruit – pulp, rind and skin – is fruity, a rush of light but forceful hoppy bitterness and fragrance running throughout and persisting in the nose. If they were aiming to refresh, they certainly have hit the mark. Some beers are for dinner; this one is really more for the morning, to kickstart the day.
The main event, of course, are the ‘sticky bones’ – the Garlic BBQ ribs in this case, a half rack of pork ribs, slathered with BBQ sauce and topped with nubs of golden, crisp garlic. It’s the kind of dish that explains why BBQ sauce is never ‘spread’, or ‘applied’ – it’s always ‘slathered’, at a level of dexterity barely above flinging gobs of sauce at a slab of meat. Or so that is the impression such a vast thing gives on the plate. Next to it, the coleslaw, finely shredded and generously dressed but still with bite, is a pale, tangy, delicate thing; skin-on fries are a good mix of crunch of fluffiness, if a little heavily salted.
But the rough ruggedness of the ribs is only a facade; there is some real delicacy and skill here. The fried garlic adds a warming, carbon-rich accent to a BBQ sauce that is finely balanced on the edge of being too sweet; the sauce itself clings to, and is seared into, the meat, suffusing it fully. Ribs are themselves a mix of several kinds of texture, from the thick chunk of flaky chunk at its base to the membranous, easily charred underside, and each has responded to the heat in its own way, lending real variety to what looks like a monolith.
Sure, Morganfield’s is… well, it’s soul food in a nicely packaged form, and maybe someone can quibble about its authenticity. But not me; I’ve yet to travel to the Southern US itself to taste the food in its native land (it’s definitely on the to-do list, though). But then, on their own terms, their proposition is simple, and they do deliver it. The food is strongly and brightly flavoured, the atmosphere homely. Widely spaced tables means that the chatter of the crowd is not disruptive, but a pleasant, background buzz that melds in with the lilting saxophones. It’s a chill, happy place – much like blues music itself is, despite its name and origin, a chill sort of music. And goodness knows we need places like this in Singapore.
3 Temasek Boulevard
Suntec City, #01-645
Sun – Thurs, 11am – 11pm
Fri – Sat, 11am – midnight