The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Thee “AO” Burger at Amber Ox
Amber Ox Public House opened in Williamsburg just over a month ago and already has gained a wild popularity that almost requires diners to make a reservation.
As an avid restaurant goer and steadfast fan of Williamsburg’s dining options, I was determined to see what all the hype was about. The rumors of Amber Ox’s esteemed reputation proved true when a friend called for reservations only to find out that Friday evening was nearly booked. Eager to get in, we settled for an early dinner and the date was set.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Amber Ox wasn’t some hulking brewpub in Williamsburg, but rather has an unassuming brick-faced storefront that blended in perfectly with the other shops and cafes that line Prince George Street. A step through the restaurant’s front door, however, suggested that Amber Ox was anything but ordinary.
The mix of exposed brick, industrial accents and pops of burnt orange and polished wood make you feel as if you’ve entered into an urban bar further west. While we feasted in the main dining room, the same rustic flair continues into the bar area where backless metal barstools sit beneath communal high-top tables. The L-shaped bar is also lined with over a dozen chairs that offer glimpses into the kitchen, brewery and the beaming backsplash of white subway tile.
Considering Amber Ox is a brewery-restaurant hybrid, I of course opted to enjoy my meal with one of the signature brews crafted for their Precarious Beer Project. A lover of fruity beers, I ordered a glass of their newest DIPA, Rubber v. Glue. It was juicy, soft and loaded with tangy aromas and citrus notes from orange blossoms, lemon and mandarin zest. Its golden, hazy appearance shined beautifully through Amber Ox’s signature stemmed glass, too. After a few sips, it was time to peruse the menu.
One would think that a small, carefully crafted menu void of surplus burger and pizza variations would make deciding on an entrée easy, but easy it was not. The selection of five-star dishes offered at Amber Ox are nearly impossible to choose between. There are pork chops prepared in sweet tea, cheesy shrimp n’ grits and scallops topped with jalapeño honey and smoked paprika butter sauce. After pondering the various dishes for nearly 20 minutes, I chose Thee “AO” Burger served with a side of hand cut fries. I thought to myself, with the restaurant’s name in the title, it has to be good, right?
Thee “AO” Burger was far from good—it was phenomenal. Between the smoked duck fat brioche roll was a juicy, exceptionally flavorful burger with just the right amount of pink. The caramelized onion jam and fried egg aioli add a hint of sweetness while also bringing depth to the burger’s savory flavor. The burger’s umami palate is furthered by the smokiness and crunch that arise from the strips of AO house bacon. The kicker, however, is the hearty scoop of pimento cheese that sits atop the already sizable patty. But when the South’s beloved cheese spread packs that much flavor, there’s no such thing as too much.
Having tried and loved both the beer and trademark burger, ordering dessert seemed like the next logical step. Challenged again with an exquisite selection, I pored over sweet potato donuts and a carrot cake “whoopie pie,” but ultimately settled for the comfort of a classic apple cobbler. As to be expected, the warm treat was a classic with a twist. Amber Ox swapped the traditional crunchy oat topping for a scoop of vanilla ice cream that gently melts into the hot gooey cobbler. To my complete surprise, the cobbler not only showcased flavors of apple, cinnamon and nutmeg, but of orange as well. The combination of citrus and apple was odd, but pleasant and well balanced by the neutrality in flavor of the vanilla ice cream.
Overall, I’d say that Amber Ox is more than deserving of the notoriety it has received. The public house offers a great social atmosphere and an even better cuisine. With ever-changing brunch, lunch, dinner and beverage menus, I’m already looking forward to going back for something new.
Amber Ox Public House is located at 521 Prince George St., Suite 101, Williamsburg. Call 757-790-2299 for reservations.