Kansas may have banned cigarettes in bars four years ago, but there will always be an inherent smokiness to bars, whether it’s the foggy mind that comes from late-night drinking or the manifestation of its flavor in food and drink, like what can be found at the Monarch, a restaurant and bar in Wichita’s Delano neighborhood.
Almost everything on the menu is smoked. It could easily turn into a gimmick, though the Monarch exercises restraint and largely sticks to smoking meats – ham, brisket, chicken, pork and sausages – though some cheddar, gouda and cremini mushrooms also get some time in the smoker. The list reads largely like that of a barbecue restaurant, but it shouldn’t be confused for one. The smoke here is more subtle, and there’s no rub applied to the meat before cooking. A pitmaster would never slice his own brisket as thin as the Monarch, either.
The meats are used as ensemble players on a menu of sandwiches and appetizers, ranging from the stalwarts – wings, potato skins – to interesting variations on traditional dishes. Those smoked creminis are put to good use in an appetizer when stuffed with cream cheese, cheddar and brisket, and could serve as a meal themselves if you find yourself unable to share. Sweet potato tots receive a similar indulgent upgrade with the addition of cheddar cheese, duck bacon and ranch dressing for dipping.
While the tots are good, the homemade chips serve as a better partner to the confident, straightforward sandwiches. Smoke mellowed the acidic bite of the corned-beef Reuben, though it brought complexity to the Cuban. The pulled pork sandwich was a serviceable wash. The menu does throw some curve balls – a ham sandwich is layered with apples, brie and Dijon, and the club sandwich uses that duck bacon again, though in this application, I would have been happier with the real thing.
The Monarch’s interior is trendy and decorated with lots of wood and iron. Local art on the walls and the garage patio overlooking the clock tower roundabout are friendly invitations for passers-by. The service is friendly and attentive.
It would be giving short shrift to the Monarch to not mention its extensive collection of bourbons. Very nearly every brand of the stuff that’s available in Wichita can be found here and is celebrated in flights, in homemade infused flavors, and during the occasional bourbon appreciation classes. Between the booze and the food, the Monarch has established a strong identity in the two years it’s been in business. It’s a good fit amid the storefronts and clock tower roundabout that define Delano. It would be nice to see it continue evolving the menu to refine the narrative thread that defines the establishment, but in the meantime I’ll just order another Manhattan.
Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
Where: 579 W. Douglas, 316-201-6626
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to midnight Sundays
Type of food: Sandwiches, smoked meats, pub food
Web site: www.monarchwichita.com