While Hyde Park Tavern underwent new ownership last year and has a new fall menu with several wonderful gourmet options — including a great wine list — it’s still very much a pub. There are the loud TVs, the loud talkers and the visceral, sports-inspired moans and groans that always make me feel like I’m less in a restaurant and more in a motel, the kind that advertises as “discreet.”
Of course, you can’t get Irony Monterey Pinot Noir at The Liberty Inn in New York City, so it’s hardly a fair comparison (but for the soundtrack). And Irony ($9) is by far one of the best Pinots I’ve ever had. I have the Tavern to thank for that; I had it here first. Some magical merging of spring and fall, light and fruity with a hint of cherry but also deep and earthy with traces of mushroom, it’s a wine your body remembers. Even my dining partner, who is allergic to alcohol, commented, “Your wine smells so good. What is it?”
Somehow, I was able to persuade my partner, a long-time friend, to order a steak — filet mignon and sautéed bok choy and mushrooms ($20). This was monumental — it might have been the first time I’d persuaded him to do anything. I don’t eat steak, can’t do it, and I always feel like CityBeat readers should know what a steak tastes like in a place like this. And my hearty friend, who dressed as a Viking for Halloween, does not shy away from meat.
“It’s the season for steak,” I began, as if he needed convincing. “Cold weather. It’s good to eat with the seasons. Winter is for red meat.”
I even alluded to advice from the spiritual teachers we both share, to eat a bit of steak when the temperature drops; it’s good for the chi. That cinched it.
After debating over entrées, we argued over starters — both of us are a bit obnoxious and picky.
Do we go with the O.M.G. Rings (hand-battered onion rings)? No, I’m on a diet. But I was all for the Reuben Egg Rolls. No, he hates sauerkraut. We finally decided on the Scallops ($9), of which I’m not a fan. I changed my mind, however, when they were brought to the table. These weren’t the rubbery, overcooked scallops with the NASA-friendly texture that so many pubs and restaurants serve. No, these were sweet, tender and firm with no trace of fishiness.
As we thoroughly enjoyed our appetizer, my dining partner decided to share the story of his first scallop with me. He said that it had been wrapped in bacon, and that’s why he fell in love with it, further confirming my theory that all men love bacon, leaving me, as always, wondering, “Why?” I also wondered, “If a woman came to them wrapped in bacon, would that be enough to cinch the deal? Would she suddenly be desirable?”
As if the scallops weren’t enough, we also ordered the light Lettuce Cups ($8): marinated veggies, cubes of grilled chicken and buttery bibb lettuce with a Thai sweet chili sauce. They were decent, but not nearly as flavorful or desirable as the scallops I was now beginning to love.
Our food came, with perfect timing, just as we’d finished our appetizers. My dish was bright beet pink, which at first horrified me but then grew on me, kind of like a Gwen Stefani song. Chicken Breast ($15) with beets, rhubarb and caramelized button mushrooms, all drizzled with honey thyme cream sauce and served with wonderfully delicate potato herb custard flan. While it was truly a burst of fall, it was over-salted, like many of the Tavern’s dishes, and the beets carried a powerful punch.
My friend’s filet was ideal, tender at medium well and up there with one of the best steaks he’s had.
Meanwhile, I watched the crowd, some of whom were servers getting off their shifts and having drinks at the bar. This seemed to be a great place to work for servers, the kind of restaurant where everyone hits the bars together after work. I was beginning to get nostalgic for my old, carefree server days as my good friend launched into yet another bacon story.
“Do you know that (ex-girlfriend) used to ask me to order bacon all the time?”
I took the cue: “Why?”
“Because she was kosher, and she loved bacon,” he said. “She just wanted to taste it on my tongue.”
“That’s a great bacon story,” I acknowledged. “Every man has one … or two.”
At the end of the night, we decided we loved the Tavern. This is definitely the place you want to consider for reasonable, casual dating or dates with friends. (Just ask for less salt or more bacon, wherever your proclivities might lie).
You can always go upstairs, away from the TVs, where they have some nice booths. Also, downstairs next to the bar they have a wonderful little lounge with four leather chairs and a TV — a great place to bring a friend/friends to watch the game.
HYDE PARK TAVERN
Go: 3384 Erie Ave., Hyde Park
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday
Entrée Prices: $10-$20
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood, chicken and vegetarian
Accessibility: Fully accessible