Is there any place more American than a sports bar right at the start of the college football bowl season? I'm not generally that big on the places, preferring to do my beer swilling and TV-yelling in the comfort of my own living room, but a recent afternoon of shopping in the Promenade Shopping Center found me and the wife feeling hungry — and with a couple of whistles in need of wetting to boot. Wanting to try some place we'd never been before, we stepped into the Tavern Sports Grill, a loud, bustling bar and grill with copious flatscreens plastered on every surface showing numerous football and basketball games simultaneously. The restaurant's high ceilings diffused the noise enough to keep things at a nice, dull roar, and after a look at the diverse beer, wine, and cocktails list, we settle on a couple of glasses of our new favorite bar beer, Schlafly's, and made ourselves comfortable with some football-watching.
The menu at the Tavern is nothing out of the ordinary: burgers, hot wings, sandwiches, and other bar food staples make up the bulk of food selections. We went for the Fried Pickles to start, because good fried pickles are one of the best pairings for a tall glass of beer we've found. The pickles were fantastic; sharp, salty dill chips battered and fried to a crisp and served with the obligatory ranch dressing. Where fried pickles normally fail is with the breading — it can often be soggy, and usually arrives falling off the pickles. The Tavern's pickles avoided both of these hardships, arriving intact and completely crisp on the outside. These were some of the best pickles I've had, edging out my previous favorite by a hair. The portion was huge, with the half-order we got being more than enough for two people.
Having packed away the pickles, we moved on to our main dishes. Up first was the Tavern Club, a tasty chicken club sandwich with a thin grilled chicken cutlet, thick cut bacon, lettuce, and tomato. While I've never liked the chicken club as much as the traditional cold cut club, this hot sandwich was good, with the smoky bacon working nicely with the juicy grilled chicken to provide a substantial amount of food in every bite. The sandwich came with some very respectable fries, crisp on the outside with a mealy interior. If there's anything that seemed amiss with this sandwich, it was the price: $10.99 for a club sandwich and fries seems rich to my blood, but given the pub's location in Little Rock's ritziest shopping center makes sense.
Our second entree was the fish n' chips, although we decided to sub in onion rings for the fries. If the club sandwich seemed overpriced, the fish was a deal at $8.99 for four large pieces of battered cod, an ample pile of onion rings, and a disappointing Caesar salad we ordered as our second side. The fish was crisp, if a little oily on the bottom, and the tartar sauce served to the side was a passable condiment, if not exactly as good as the malt vinegar I usually prefer on my fish. The onion rings were some of the best I've found, crispy and huge with a sweet ring of tender onion in the center of each. It's a lot of food, which makes it nice if you're hanging out to catch the game — you won't be hungry again by half time.
With all the good restaurants located in the Promenade, it might be easy to overlook the Tavern. For fine dining, you'd certainly be better off somewhere else — but nobody's going to a sports bar for haute cuisine anyway. When reviewing a place, I always ask myself "does the restaurant accomplish what it sets out to do?" — and in the case of the Tavern Sports Grill, I think the place succeeds admirably. If there was any down side, it was that the prices of the place were a touch high — and that some of our fellow Little Rockers apparently think it's OK to smash the flat screen TVs located in the men's room. Come on, folks — that's why it's so hard for us to have nice things. On the whole, my dining experience was good, and it's certainly a place that will get my business come March Madness time.
The Tavern Sports Grill is located at 17815 Chenal Parkway, near the IMAX.
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