Free State Kitchen, Liverpool
Offering stellar cocktails and life beyond the burger, Liverpool eatery Free State Kitchen takes a fresh stab at American cuisine, with mixed results
Offering a 'contemporary twist on classic American dishes,’ Free State Kitchen on Liverpool’s Maryland Street is in a great little spot, benefitting from being right in the city centre, but still tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Like all good eateries should, Free State Kitchen aims to make the most of the great produce available on its doorstep, with ingredients from favourites like Liverpool Cheese Co and the award-winning Bexleys Butchers.
The garden area at the back is a hidden gem and a rare find in these parts. With a vegetable patch and even fruit trees, it’s a good place to enjoy a few too many cocktails during the nine days of summer we enjoy in Liverpool. They also host markets here throughout the year, where you can pick up everything from vintage records to artisan bread. Unfortunately, we head down in January, so it's a strictly indoor experience for us.
We arrive at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and are quickly seated. It’s 5 o'clock somewhere, so we go straight for the cocktail menu. We opt for an FSK Garden – a blend of Chase GB gin, elderflower cordial, tonic and cucumber; and a Marmalade Mule, with Chase marmalade vodka, bitters, ginger beer and lime. Both are delicious, but there's also a respectable bottled beer menu featuring plenty of American crafts, and if wine is more your thing there’s a lovely New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon blanc.
On to food. We start with some American greats – sweetcorn chowder and the Maryland crab cakes. The sweetcorn chowder is steaming hot and plentiful, but it's slightly lacking in flavour. It's a shame; this should be pure, delicious comfort food. The crab cakes are better and have plenty of crab, and the garlic dip on the side packs a punch, too.
For mains we're drawn to the handhelds, never one to order a salad when a burger is on offer. My partner opts for the double French onion burger – double beef patty, garlic butter, caramelised onions, Dijon mustard mayo and Swiss cheese. I go for the garden burger, which the menu tells us is a homemade vegetable patty, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy ancho chilli yoghurt. Both are served with rosemary salted fries. The double French is a beast of a thing and the mere smell of it is enough to turn January fitness resolutions to dust. The caramelised onions are sweet and the beef patties are juicy. The garden burger is pleasant enough, but like the sweetcorn chowder, it's missing something; the ancho chilli yoghurt is lacking in heat and the burger falls apart as I'm eating it.
We order a side of macaroni and cheese from the specials menu, and it's without doubt the highlight of the meal. It's rich and comforting, with a hidden kick from more of those caramelised onions. If this doesn't make it onto the regular menu, it would be a crime against humanity.
The desserts are all pretty standard American fare, and ice-cream sundaes are popular. Nothing particularly jumps out at either of us, so we go for the sensible option and order more cocktails. They're equally as great as the first (and second) round.
If you're 'eating clean in 2016' then this place is probably one to avoid. If you're looking for a decent burger and some seriously good cocktails, then head on down.
Free State Kitchen, 1 Maryland Street, Liverpool, L1 9DE