Utter the word “tavern” and the mind conjures images of dimly-lit rooms, Hungry-Man portions of protein and white starches, with deep fried renditions of both. Upsell this concept to northern Fairfield County in the hands of two seasoned restaurateurs and you get Tavern in Monroe.
Located on a busy stretch of Rt. 25 just between Newtown and Trumbull, Tavern is already attracting a steady crowd in just under two months of operation. The after-work crowd is drawn to its handsome whiskey barrel studded bar and families clamber to fill the outdoor patio with its comfortable vibe and family-friendly menu.
The credit for this early success is due in large part to Scott Beck, co-owner and founder of SoNo’s Match and The Loft and Derrick Lee, the former co-founder and general manger at Match who teamed up to create the informal and family-friendly Tavern near their own Fairfield and Trumbull homes.
Echoing the feel of this modern pub decor is a menu filled with upscale comfort food. Think “meat and potatoes” with a slightly discerning palate. Hearty appetites are Tavern’s target customer with the menu’s front and center “Mini Grilled Cheese Board” and formidable burger selection setting the tone.
Three small yet swarthy sandwiches, the grilled cheese trio is built upon thick-cut grilled french bread surrounding your choice of tomato, bacon and jalapenos as well the unusual (for a tavern) yet recommended, Manchego, Chorizo and Membrillo or a Croque Monsieur with San Danielle prosciutto, Gruyere, wild mushrooms and bechamel.
If you make it past the grilled cheese plate, the rest of the menu is split up into small plates, salads, burgers, sandwiches and “bigger plates.” The small plates and salads reflect much of what you’d expect from a pub – the obligatory wings, fried calamari, nachos, and salads.
However it’s the road less traveled, and the calories you shouldn’t dare to count, that you should consider. At the bottom of the list of starters is a bratwurst and pretzel dish I’ll be revisiting. A house-made lightly salted pretzel, evenly doughy and chewy, is sidled with grilled pale ale brats, sauerkraut and grainy mustard. A perfect small plate with its layers of textures and multiple components that sets the tone for the menu.
For dinner, or for those with bottomless appetites, Tavern has meat, and lots of it. It will not come as a surprise that the burger gets much of the attention here, with five 8 oz black angus beef burgers in several winning combinations. The most popular burger and one I enjoyed double-fisting, was the Tavern burger. This challenging tower of bourbon glazed cipollini onions, crispy applewood smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar cheese with smoked mayo and house made pickles is served on a toasted onion brioche roll. If you’re after heat, try the Jalapeno Burger with its smoky and spicy layers of pepper jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, jalapeno mayo, scallions and avocado. The Bacon, Egg and Cheeseburger is a perfect breakfast-for-dinner dish with crispy smoked bacon, sunny side egg, and American cheese on an over-sized toasted English muffin.
Tavern’s “Large Plates” are also protein-driven. A NY-strip steak frites, fish and chips and bbq baby back ribs are familiar and provocative. However you may find yourself skipping straight to the fried chicken like I did, intrigued by its attractive sides and a conversation with Beck about our shared admiration for the Thomas Keller ad hoc fried chicken.
Tavern’s Fried Chicken is made up of three tender and juicy pieces of chicken outfitted in a crispy fried buttermilk shell and accompanied by caramelized onion infused mashed potatoes, roasted sweet summer corn & bacon, and sausage gravy. This is the type of dish they should give awards for finishing. I split it with a friend and brought the rest home for lunch. And then dinner. Each part of this dish is well choreographed down to a smooth brown gravy studded with stowaway hunks of fennel-laced sausage. If I could eat this at the height of summer, I know I’ll be craving this in the dead of winter.
As for the drinks, eight beers on tap and fifty bottled beers feature prominently on the menu. There are seven house cocktails and a short list of wine. I couldn’t even lift the menu to make it to dessert on either visit. When and if I do, the ice cold milk and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies will be hard to pass up.
You may remember this space was originally home to Pancho & Gringo’s before it burned down and was rebuilt as a sports bar for a short run. Beck and Lee decided to gut the space working closely with Christian Arkay-Leliever of KMS Team in New York who Beck says, “was instrumental in the design.” This attention to detail is evidenced in a comfortable and modern space redefining the concept of a Tavern as we know it.
What will certainly become Tavern’s signature, Jack Daniels whisky barrels, are used along the bar and cut into the back wall of the rear dining room. A central fire place divides two seating areas, with an outdoor patio sprawls just to the right of the entrance, the entire space clearly built for year-round use.
Comfort food with a wink and nod, Tavern is a welcome respite for those of us traveling or living along this northern Fairfield County corridor. Be warned, small appetites need not apply.
Tavern 262 Main Street, Monroe CT 203.880.5007