Content produced by Mike Sutter
September 12, 2019
Note: This is a full Taste Test review, with a star rating based on multiple visits.
I’ve been a dad at a restaurant. I’ve corraled runaround kids. I’ve endured the screaming fits. I’ve counted to three — a lot.
That’s why I love Lucy Cooper’s Ice House. They don’t let you in the door unless you’re 21.
Don’t get me wrong: Adults are perfectly capable of behaving like children. But it’s good to have some grownup time away from the rugrats, to have a strong drink, use strong language and dig into some of the strongest all-around bar food in the city. Just don’t tell my kids.
Lucy Cooper’s Ice House on U.S. 281 by Hill Country Village is a rowdy, bawdy bar with things like Naughty Bingo, vibrator races and Ms. Pac-Man. It’s also the domain of Braunda Moody Smith, a Southerner with culinary training, rolled-up sleeves and a “We Can Do It” attitude. Rosie the Riveter meets Lucy the Line Cook.
Smith grew up in Georgia, went to cooking school in Hawaii and lived in Korea. So you get over-the-top food that glories in its excesses.
Lucy Cooper’s Ice House
16080 San Pedro Ave., 210-462-1894, lucycoopers.com
Quick bite: A rowdy 21-and-over bar and grill with creative pub food
Hit: Big Kahuna Burger, fried green tomato BLT, Korean barbecue chicken wings
Miss: Cheeseburger eggrolls, prime rib pizza, pineapple cocktail
Hours: 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Sunday; kitchen open until 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, midnight Friday-Sunday; pizza until 2 a.m. every night
Price range: Appetizers, $6-$14; pizzas, $12-$18; burgers and sandwiches, $8-$14; chicken wings, $12; seafood boils, $12-$28; brunch, $8-$12; desserts, $4-$7
Alcohol: Beer, cocktails and wine
★★★★ Superior. Can compete nationally.
★★★ Excellent. One of the best restaurants in the city.
★★ Very good. A standout restaurant of its kind.
★ Good. A restaurant that we recommend.
(no stars) We cannot recommend this restaurant at this time.
Express-News dining critics pay for all meals.
Things like chicken-fried deviled eggs spiked with bacon. And the Big Kahuna Burger, all salty, sweet and fatty in all the best ways with grilled Spam and pineapple. Or a Bulgogi Burger piled with thin slices of beef coated in tangy-sweet Korean barbecue sauce.
The South exerts the strongest influence by far at Lucy Cooper’s, starting with boiled peanuts that tasted and felt like an alien variant of canned asparagus but might comfort people who grew up eating them from roadside stands. I didn’t, but I wish I had. I’ve eaten fried green tomatoes, but not in a BLT the way Lucy Cooper’s does it, with bacon like smokeshop candy and tarragon aioli with licorice on its breath.
That same whiskey and brown sugar-glazed bacon showed up on a miniature clothesline, each strip hanging from its own wooden clothespin. I couldn’t decide whether it belonged at a blue collar bar and grill or a James Beard dinner, but I appreciated the extra-ness of it all.
Speaking of extra, how Southern is a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich? Enough to call it the Crunchy Elvis, the king of honky-tonk desserts. Red Kool-Aid brought childhood memories to bear on pickles that were soaked in the stuff, then fried crispy.
Southerners and South Texans alike understand a good seafood boil, and Lucy’s Low Country Boil brought a full smash-and-grab experience with snow crab, shrimp, smoked sausage, corn and potatoes. Shrimp rose to its highest barroom potential with Shrimpy Pops, wrapped in bacon, glazed with honey garlic Sriracha and served with sesame-edged Asian slaw.
Nothing succeeds like excess at Lucy Cooper’s, exemplified by Tin Can Nachos. Stacked in an actual shiny can, a gloriously sloppy pile of housemade tortilla chips, taco meat, beans, jalapeños and queso huddled for warmth until the waiter whipped off the can with a pair of pliers. Nothing special once the show was over, but worth the $12 price of admission.
Another good showboat dish: a whole-hog pizza loaded with sausage, bacon, pepperoni, ham and Canadian bacon. Rolled out like a flatbread, the crust evolved from a floppy overblown pita the first time I went in May to a thicker, chewier, more respectable crust in its current form.
An ear of Mexican-style street corn hit the San Antonio sweet spot with queso fresco and tangy mayo, but most of all a crunchy scatter of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. At brunch, pancakes layered with sweet cream cheese, shaved carrots and walnuts evoked carrot cake without going too far to the sweet side.
Sometimes the gimmicks didn’t pan out, like a burger with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for buns. By the time they were grilled hard enough to hold the load without disintegrating, the doughnuts just became greasy hobo blankets.
A chip-and-dip sampler called Three Amigos emphasized that of all the things Lucy Cooper’s does well, it doesn’t do justice to salsa or queso. A pair of eggroll appetizers just added a greasy fake smile to the stoner idea of cramming cheeseburgers or chili cheese dogs in fried dough.
But Lucy’s knows its way around chicken wings, with a dozen varieties, the best of them incorporating Korean barbecue sauce, but it also found traction with a soy and pineapple glaze called Volcano Huli Huli and a spicy version called Nashville South that wasn’t nearly as lethal as the menu suggests.
With food like this — from a menu more than 75 dishes deep — it’s easy to overlook what a joyful, rowdy bar scene Lucy Cooper’s cultivates. But it does, with a serious Texas beer tap wall and people shooting pool and sitting by the firepits out on the patio. There’s live music and football on the TVs and off-the-wall drinks like a margarita with a frozen sangria pop and bright red trash-can punch in a Mason jar.
But take my word: This is some of the best bar food in San Antonio. Get your ID and see for yourself. Don’t make me count to three.
Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @fedmanwalking
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