Many people are familiar with the Stage House Restaurant & Bar in Scotch Plains. They recently opened a new restaurant, attached in a barn structure called The Tavern.
We had the pleasure of dining there before their offical public opening. Past guests of Stage House had been sent invitations to try it out with a 1/2 price menu, with the caveat to excuse any small glitches since they were still getting used to the space. We thought this was a great deal - didn't mind minor inconveninces at all.
First, the atmosphere is very warm and inviting. The barn structure is historic, like the adjoining building. It isn't very large, but is on 3 levels although the 3rd didn't appear to be in use. People with disabilities beware! I did not see any way up other than the stairs. The first level, has about 15 tables, and a full service bar (which I will get to momentarily). The 2nd level, had about 8 tables at most. There was a small problem up there with the A/C - the vent blasts right onto 2 of the tables but this can be remedied easily I'm sure (we did mention it - we had to move ourselves elsewhere).
Ok now on to the edibles and cocktails!
First of all, I haven't seen such an extensive complicated cocktail list in I don't know how long. It was remarkable, and everyone was ordering drinks (they, alas, were not half price, only the food). They had all these vintage style drinks such as a Pink Squirrel (which I had). When was the last time anyone saw that? It was even better than the ones I remember my mom making in the 70's from those Holland House mixes for sure LOL. I sat there, with my taste buds remembering one of my first tastes of an alcoholic drink at 10 years old and loving every moment of it. My husband had a Mint Julep - another very retro drink and it was more enticing than I thought it would be.
The menu is very varied - and quite affordable in many instances. There is everything from sandwiches, burgers and ribs to roasted lamb and grilled salmon. We actually chose the same starter, grilled iceberg lettuce wedges, tomato slices (yes, grilled) with blue cheese dressing. The grilling really improved the iceberg - not my favorite choice for lettuce ever. It gave it a slightly smoky undertone, barely warm outside and icy crisp inside and the dressing was great. Very basic homey kind of salad, but elevated a bit by the cooking of it.
We then split an order of ciabatta bread with tapanade. Now, we expected to see slices of bread, piled with chopped olives come to the table. No. It was the best bread we've had in ages, still fresh from being baked it seemed and the tapanade in fact, was more like an olive dressing and you dipped the bread into it. We really enjoyed that dish a lot - again something very basic but made better by the quality of the ingredients.
For our entrees, I chose the slow-roasted lamb which came with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. My husband had the slow-roasted brisket, same sides. The lamb was very good, and there was plenty of it on the plate (enough for a nice sandwich at home the next day). I think they could have been a bit more generous with the potatoes and spinach, especially since they were so good. The only thing I did't like was my plate was way over-sauced, and the sauce itself while tasty, was not a very appealing color - it looked like it may have had a bit too much flour in it perhaps. My husband's brisket, however, was nearly perfect. The appearance of the meat was practically intoxicating to me - and I don't even like brisket! It was melt-in-your-mouth soft and the BBQ sauce wasn't overwhelming the meat - something which always bothers me (I guess you can figure out I don't like my food being too wet). He too, had enough left over for lunch the next day.
We decided to skip desert, as we don't normally indulge anyway although considering it was a new dining experience, we probably should have just to check them out - especially at 1/2 price. But, I was also feeling a bit guilty pondering the calories and fat grams in that Pink Squirrel (it had coconut in it) and felt that I'd already pretty much had my desert in that cocktail.
Dinner at 1/2 price and 2 regular priced drinks came out to not even $50 with tip :-).
All in all a very nice dinner. Service was fine - tho slow but again, that probably will get better. We had a few minor comments (like no bread being served while waiting for the meal/drinks), but they provided a form for us to fill out at the end of the meal so they could improve upon things. We're looking forward to going back and actually making The Tavern a regular on our list of frequented restaurants in the area. I believe they will also be doing take-out, and will be open for lunch as well.
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