2013-04-15 11.11.30
We love it when we discover totally new corners of the city. Those hidden, previously off-limits places that remind us of how much more of the city we have to discover.

Who know, for example, there’s a green space tucked behind Hope Street, with ivy clad walls, picnic tables and beatific statues of Jesus?

We do now. And this half acre of sunny garden adjoins our favourite new restaurant in town – the slightly brilliant Free State Kitchen.

With their juicy burgers, generously stuffed pulled-pork baguettes, and heavenly pastrami on rye, they’re a shot in the arm for the maze of backstreets between Hope and Rodney and the best excuse to head uptown for a recession busting meal we can think of.

We spoke to co-owner, Kate Hughes (between slugs of Brooklyn Lager, and mouthfulls of crunchy home-made slaw, of course) about burgers, beer gardens and why Liverpool needs a little more Brixton in its soul.

So, what’s the big idea?

My husband, Gary, and I are really food fans, both eating out and cooking at home. We travel extensively with food being the top of the list and have dreamed about opening our own place for years as felt we could offer something really unique and special to Liverpool’s fast casual dining scene. We’ve seen so many people doing a great job across the city in recent years, such as Lucha, Tribeca, Puschka and Kasbah, that we felt it was time to add a new independent to the city!

Does catering run in the family, or is this a venture into the unknown?

Our family business has always been in the licensed trade and I knew I’d always open a businesses serving food and drink from a very young age. After working for the last eight years in event management and reaching the big 30, myself and my husband decided it was now or never. We spend quite a while looking at concepts and locations, plus trends in The USA and London and built our business plan on that research.

We then approached our good friend Dan regarding managing the kitchen, who’s been a Chef for many years for the likes of The Wanted, Westlife, Tori Amos, Pixie Lott, Alfie Boe and many more as we were always confident he’d be the best man for the job as his food is amazing!

We love the cool and clean look. Where did you get your inspiration from?

Once we found our current location at 1 Maryland Street, with its fantastic garden, we knew we had somewhere special. We’d looked at many places around the Ropewalks Area but none had the qualities and great feeling as this place.

We took a lot of inspiration from places in the USA such as Boudin in San Fran and Yardbird in Miami plus spent quite a lot of time in London visiting Brixton Village and the like of Mishkins, Spuntino and MeatMarket, which we took various points from, and worked them to suit our venue such as the caged wall storage and Georgian glass partitions.

From day one, we’ve worked with our great architects, Matthew and Mat at MgMaStudio, who’ve been instrumental in opening up the building with the massive doors to bring the outside and inside together.

We also have a create design agency, iLo Create, who’ve added some fantatsic features such as the painted sign on the gable wall facing Rodney Street and branding on our shipping container!

What about that garden? What’s your plans for it?

We love how it still feels a bit like the convent garden it once was, and really wanted to respect the building’s previous life as Notre Dame Convent. The garden is a huge part of Free State Kitchen which we plan to run events and summer themes from Clam Bakes to children’s gardening classes and acoustic music.

Tell us about the thinking behind the menu?

The name Free State Kitchen comes from the fact that we always wanted an American Restaurant and it happened to find its home on Maryland Street! Maryland is also named the Free State which just seemed perfect for the relaxed vibe we wanted to create.

We want to offer traditional American Classics and are much more than a burger joint! The menu focuses on East Coast cuisine so think Maryland Crab Cakes, Seasoned Clams and seafood, home cured Pastrami, seasonal salads, mac’n’cheese, Buffalo Wings and Baltimore’s favourite sandwich, The Scooch.

We also have a range of daily specials, sweet pies and ice cream sundaes, all made in house with as much local produce as possible and the weekend brunch is on the way!

We use Larkin’s Farm, The French Corner Bakery, Bexley’s Butchers, Cheshire Farm Ice Cream and The Liverpool Cheese Company for our food.

Is Liverpool getting its act together, food wise?

Yes, I think it is! I’d love to see more independent food shops such as bakers and fishmongers open up again as we have every kind of produce on our doorstep. But I still think we need a bit more of what London has to offer such as Brixton Village!

Free State Kitchen
1 Maryland Street

  • http://www.facebook.com/loxey Tom Lox

    Is that a picture of the American Cheeseburger and fries you were served? Mine looked nothing like that and I was moderately disappointed with my meal. I know it’s street food style but I felt like someone has literally ran round the corner to a vendor and thrown it together in a few moments. I didn’t finish it.

    You do have a great selection of wines, and the chicken wings were superb. Perhaps I chose the wrong meal or perhaps this was an off-day? All I can say is that the burger you’ve got in that picture looks spectacular but it isn’t anywhere close to an accurate representation of what you get given.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mikeystevenson Michael Stevenson

    I really enjoyed my meal there, but I don’t understand how anyone could possibly get romantic about Brixton ‘Village’ considering all the other places you can get good American style food (like the places in America that are also quoted) does Liverpool need more Brixton in it’s soul, I don’t think so.

  • Dave

    It’s very accurate to what we’ve had, twice, now Tom. Go back. They probably are still having teething troubles, but they definitely deserve another go.

  • Lizzy

    I have eaten at FSK on several occasions and have found the food to be fantastic and the service outstanding, very welcoming with my 2 young children will definitely be visiting again and will be recommending all my friends check it out.

  • Lisaj

    Fantastic! I’ve been & thought the food was great – I had the ‘Clam Sam’ not really knowing what to expect. Oh God, it was lovely, & I look forward to eating it again – also the awesome chips, home-made lemonade etc etc! Didn’t have a pudding, but my friends did & they looked lovely. If you have room that is! They’d only been open a few days & the staff were friendly, knowledgeable & professional. Can’t wait to sit in their garden this summer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/loxey Tom Lox

    Well, Dave, we went on Saturday. Are you saying the burger definitely looks like that when you were served it?

  • http://twitter.com/Mandrooo Andy Beech

    The burger in the picture is the Double Deluxe. Which has 2 burgers and 2 slices of cheese with salad at the bottom. The American cheeseburger has 1 burger and 1 slice of cheese..

  • Jim

    Brixton Village wouldn’t serve up frozen chips, which is what we got when we went. Also, the waitress looked like she couldn’t care less. A shame, as it is a great idea and a lovely location…

  • The Crimson Pirate

    Sorry but I was diappointed. I went on Sunday. Ordered the Scooch. A most unAmerican sandwich appeared and contained greasy, dry slices of salami and bresaola (I think). As it was served with what tasted like frozen chips, having oily, grilled cured meats on the sandwich was a mistake. Too much grease. So much better would have been tradional cold sandwich meats like Mortadella and maybe some Provolone cheese; and more than the thin slices I had in mine. I’m not asking for Man versus Food style mountains of pastrami etc, but this was a thin, sorry sandwich – for £8.
    A pity as I’d looked forward to going. I’ll try again in a few weeks to see if there’s an improvement.
    Nice room. Staff were fine,and the garden could be tremendous.

  • The Crimson Pirate

    You thought the chips were “awesome”? Really?

  • The Crimson Pirate

    A friend had the Mac’n;Cheese: a bit dry, and the sauce was nowehere near tasty enough – needed a kick fromm horseradish or mustard, And not enough sauce either. Again – portion was on the small side. Mac’n’Cheese is a simple thing to cook … so it’s a bit worrying. Sorry to sound harsh, but I really wanted this place to be good, but it wasn’t on this first visit.

  • Mark Walsh

    I ordered a cheeseburger which came with some dietary advice, “Great” I thought “I love dietary advice with my order! Especially when I pay more than you would in London for a similar meal”, I looked down and low and behold, Free State Kitchen had saw fit to not include cheese on my cheeseburger which my rudimentary knowledge of maths equates to about 1/3 of the ingredients. I was wondering whether Free State Kitchen could send me the cheese they neglected to put on my meal? Or forward it to The Shipping Forecast which is where I will be eating in future.

  • Mark Walsh

    Every night I dream about getting cheese on my cheeseburger. A dream which is floating further and further away.

  • Lynn P

    I’ve been 4 times: Once the week they opened- had the special pulled pork burger which was really lovely, decent portion of good crispy chips and nice pickles. Second time I went I had the chefs salad which that day was a beetroot and goats cheese, with a side of chips. Again nice big salad, good chips (there were two of us and we got two types they were trying out, which was again nice). The last two times however I’ve been less than impressed. Was there the bank holiday weekend and got the salad again, it was again a decent size but almost all lettuce and very little of the cheese, walnuts etc. Up to that point I was happy enough with the food. However I went this week (on Thursday) and got the cheese chilli fries. It was awful, soggy chips, and a “chilli” that was basically a tomato pasta sauce with a few kidney beans in it. Horrible. My other half had the Clam Sam which one of my friends had previously and he got about 25% of the previous portion. All the others in our group had smaller portions than we had before. Not too sure we will go back. It started out well but unlike other places it doesn’t seem to have managed to hold the same standard.

  • Indiana1

    You paid more than in London? Good Lord – please share these awesome places! My family all live in and around London and I don’t know ANYWHERE I could eat out for this kind of money. Been to FSK twice, loved it & will return. Incredible value, lovely atmosphere!

  • david_lloyd

    Let’s keep this less discussion a little less hostile please. And less of an overt advert for other establishments!

  • Faye

    I went on Saturday evening with friends. The garden looked fabulous, and it’s refreshing to see somewhere in Liverpool where the outside space contains some thing that’s not just concrete.

    We shared starters and all had different mains. Our unanimous verdict was that the food was very tasty and good value (I’m an ex-Londoner too) and will definitely be going back.

    P.s I loved the chips

  • Rodgy

    Went yesterday and it wasn’t great. If you could move the tables into the sunshine that’d be better and the strong smell of petrol from the work going on in the car park was a bit off-putting. For specialty burgers, they need to up their game and the chips were pre-salted which for someone who doesn’t like salt is a no-no.

    Hopefully just teething issues as the venue, staff and idea behind it is all brilliant and a nice independent venture. Just needs to make their menu back up their USP. Will definitely be going back to enjoy the beer garden and other bits on the menu though.

  • edward ridding

    After reading the mixed comments following your write up I decided to go and check FSK for myself on Saturday. The sun was shining and the garden was open. My wife and I managed to get a table in the garden and in the sun!!

    Service wasn’t great, our waitress protested that they were a member of staff down but to be honest i think it was more lack of experience and training that let the service down. Which unfortunately is the same story across most of Liverpool’s restaurants (but that’s a different story!). It took about 5 minutes to be acknowledged by the waitress and a further ten minutes to get a drink. The garden tables were all full but inside was pretty empty. There was a waitress and a manager working, and in my mind they should have easily covered the amount of tables between them (based on a previous life in the hospitality industry). Its a burger joint the service doesn’t need to be award winning, just efficient (they’d make more money that way too!!).

    Now for the food, my wife and I had the same (as normally happens!!) the classic american cheese burger and baring a small hiccup which was quickly resolved we both loved it! I would honestly say its one of the best burgers I have had furthermore its defiantly the best burger and chips i have ever had for £7!!!

    Will we go back? Yes, just hope they can get the service to the same level as the food. Which I’m sure it will do. Any business that goes to the length of making their own house pickles surely will iron out these teething problems!!

    P.S. Coke floats are amazing!!!!

  • Tom Lox

    Went back a week ago. They burger I ordered looked nothing like the one in the picture. And the chips still weren’t great.

    Service took ages and I was continually dripped on by some water coming from the roof, so much so we had to move tables.

    On the up-side, the lemonade was superb.

  • Leanne

    I am a massive foodie, I love that Liverpool is getting all these amazing new restaurants and fantastic places to eat. I have to say though, having been to FSK twice, I am disappointed. I really want to love it, it looks great, the garden is fantastic, but unfortunately for Liverpool the steep prices don’t reflect the quality of the food. I want this place to do well, but to really compete with other top notch places in the city (especially when the sun goes and no one wants a beer garden) FSK need to do some serious re-thinking. Either employ new chefs, or lower the prices. Otherwise I’m afraid it won’t survive.

  • YorkshirePudding

    A friend and me stumbled in one Saturday during a pub crawl, it was sunny outside and the courtyard was full of people. you’ll forgive me if i cant accurately recall every little detail owing to the previously mentioned pub crawl. also we only opted to have two burgers so it wasnt exactly in depth dining but i can tell you this

    the burger was lovely, the fries were nice and having some American craft ale to boot too was great. service was quick and at that point in time that’s what we needed. Out of the three places in town that i see directly competiting with one another in this slot, namely nolita cantina, byron and FSK. i honestly cant say one is better than the other they are all nice in their own way. if anything nolita is better because they dont charge you for chips! thats my own opinion though