Mighty Tavern is part tavern, part restaurant. And it offers good food highlighting local ingredients in both a bar and restaurant setting. The restaurant houses a couple dining rooms with white-tablecloth seating, but that’s not really where the people my age—in the 30-something bracket—are.
Rather, the nicely set tables are full of mostly older diners—aged between 40 to 60, from the looks of it—and their well-dressed families.
But it’s not an overly fancy or expensive eatery that only well-to-do diners of a certain age demographic can afford; rather, this is a compact gastropub that features a rustic wood bar juxtaposed with simple modern décor. Yet, because of its location in Fair Oaks, it attracts an older suburban crowd, rather than a younger city-dwelling one.
That’s somewhat unfortunate, because it is, after all, a tavern—you know, a place for people to drink and socialize. My dining partner and I decide to sit at the bar to eat. Here, we can choose between the happy-hour menu and the dining menu.
On my first visit, however, bartender Sean Egger notifies us that one of the regular chefs isn’t working today, so happy-hour food is off-limits. Instead, I choose a burger, fries and salad from the regular dinner menu. The menu changes regularly, but this is one of the dishes that remains constant.
The burger is perfectly cooked (a little pink on the inside), but the fries aren’t particularly inventive. The pickles on top taste house-made, but the bun tastes like bland white bread. Nevertheless, the slightly better-than-average American pub grub goes well with Allagash Brewing Company’s White beer. The salad, a modified version of a Cobb—featuring heirloom tomatoes, avocado, egg, chicken and bacon—pairs well with a house red wine, which on this day, is a crisp red grenache from Spain.
The happy-hour menu is back the next day, so we order a variety of small plates (pickled eggs, steamed mussels, the charcuterie plate) and scallops off the dinner menu. All four dishes impress visually: The eggs and scallops resemble a work of art.
Egger tells us the eggs were put in a brine that once pickled beets, and thus, they’ve taken on a bright-pink color. Each of the three halves rest on a different flavorful dipping sauce. The steamed mussels arrive piled high with a handful of french fries, lemons and bacon. It’s fancier than normal pub food, and the garlic and white-wine sauce it’s cooked in make it perfect for dipping the fries and any spare bread.
The charcuterie plate features pate made by sous chef and “meat master” Jason Azevedo, a local guy who graduated from Christian Brothers High School before earning a culinary degree. It also has mustard, pickles, crackers and a nice piece of cheese that tastes like a blend of Gloucester and Parmesan.
But the best dish of this order is the scallops, which, sitting atop a bed of pancetta, leeks, corn and tomato beurre blanc, achieves a nice balance of salty, sweet and creamy that makes it worth every penny of the $23 price tag. It’s a far cry better than the rather pedestrian burger ordered the day before.
The barroom atmosphere feels a little like Cheers, with Egger chatting with regular customers, restaurant manager Dennis Lapuyade (formerly of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and César) arranging glasses at the bar, and chefs Carolyn Kumpe and Azevedo coming out from the kitchen to explain their dishes. Egger, who formerly worked at the Shady Lady Saloon, is an affable bartender and crafts fine (and reasonably priced) mint juleps, Moscow Mules and El Diablos.
Come for the tavern (and its extensive drink selection), stay for the mighty fine food.