I'LL JUST COME OUT and say it: After multiple visits to North Light—smack-dab in the middle of the ever-trendifying Mississippi shopping strip—there's nothing on the menu that compels me to return.
Unless I absolutely hate a place, there's usually something I think about after I leave (the pimento cheeseburger at Trifecta or the fried chicken at Reverend's BBQ are good examples). But North Light achieves a strange middle ground: No dishes repulsed, yet none sang the high chorus of flavor.
If invited there to meet friends, there's plenty I would order again on the perfectly serviceable menu and above-average cocktail list. But I also felt like I was sitting in some IKEA version of "restaurant fancy," with concrete and wood adding little in the way of charm. North Light takes reservations, and brunch doesn't have a wait (as of this writing), which are both bonuses in my book, and the patio is a really nice place to grab a bite and people-watch.
Opened earlier this year, North Light is a sister venture from the owners of SE Clinton's stalwart Night Light Lounge. The two share an executive chef and a comfort food angle—but everything on North Light's menu is at least a few dollars more, reflecting the slightly more ambitious fare and presumably higher rent.
Should I go back, I'll certainly get the $5 potato puffs: fluffy mounds of deep-fried mashed potatoes—crispy on the outside (without being greasy), and well seasoned Thanksgiving comfort on the inside—with a spicy crème fraîche dip. At brunch, chicken-fried buffalo with kale ($13) was a nice twist on a classic, even if the buffalo steak was a bit too thin to handle all the breading. The meatloaf ($13) was moist and wrapped in well-rendered bacon, with an unexpected and welcome hardboiled egg tucked into each slice. I heard their creation for the Mercury's Burger Week, stuffed with cheese curds, was one of the best. (Their standard North Light burger, $11, is a better deal for $9 at happy hour; it's a fat patty nestled on a house-made brioche bun, butter lettuce, garlic aioli, and sharp cheddar.)
Yet among those high-comfort plates were some fairly unsettling ones. The gluten-free mac 'n' cheese was a gummy pasta with too-thin béchamel, which provided no note besides the strong bite of extra sharp cheddar, and a few spinach leaves were like green islands in a carbohydrate swamp. A polenta ($9) had nice texture, but the tomato sauce on the ratatouille was far too tangy, and the toasted half hazelnuts on top needed to be broken up more—as is, they're liable to break a tooth. At brunch, steer clear of the two breakfast sliders, which, while a good deal at $7, lacked flavor and seriously needed cheese or a sauce to get them down. A Bloody Mary ($8) is not advertised as spicy, yet it burned my dining companions' throats. All three were left behind mostly full.
Much more successful is the cocktail list, which boasts a few unusual items among the standard Sazeracs and old-fashioneds. The Stallion ($10) combines two of my favorite liquors, mescal and Fernet, with sherry and walnut liqueur for a well-balanced and strong drink. The Cannon Smoke ($8)—black-tea-infused rum with lime juice, Islay Scotch, and fleur de sel water—is what I'd like to drink with Ernest Hemingway on Cape Cod at twilight.
There's a lot of competition on Mississippi already, and much of the individual items North Light offers can be found at other places just a few blocks away. There's some good building blocks—the staff was flawlessly friendly, and there's a pedigree in the ownership—but to burn bright among all the glittering dining options, North Light needs to up its wattage.
Weekdays 4 pm-midnight; weekends 9 am-midnight. Happy hour daily 4-6 pm, 10 pm-midnight. Reservations available.