“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.” Samuel Johnson
Once a year, I make a list of all the burgers I’ve had over the last 12 months. I’m near the half-way point on it now, taking copious notes for the big round-up.
But it’s worth mentioning here and now that a noteworthy new player is on the scene.
I’m talking about The Tavern, a little burger and cocktail joint across from Riegrovy Sady on the border of Vinohrady and Žižkov.
It’s a modest place in certain ways. There are only about 8 or 9 tables in the cramped dining area.
There are also a couple of seats at the bar (my favorite spot).
Outside seating is in the works for the summer.
As of now, they are only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. They’ve had limited hours because the perfectionist owners, Dean Selby and Lori Wyant, want to make sure everything is just right.
They’ve been methodically building out the kitchen, testing recipes and suppliers, and getting staff in place. It’s been a slow process. The restaurant has been open since the start of 2012, but it is still not clear when full-time operations will commence.
The couple was the force behind the popular LokalBurger, a traveling food stand that popped up anywhere from a farmer’s market to a cocktail bar. I enjoyed their product when I tried in Bukowski‘s last year.
Now with their own roof over their heads, they’ve kept the menu simple. It’s really mostly burgers and variations of things you can put on a bun.
Since I’d already had the LokalBurger, I decided to try their LB Tower of Power. It’s a LokalBurger with two patties instead of one.
I’ll begin with their “butter buns.”. They are custom-made, brioche-style masterpieces. The lightly sweet bread is steamed to a soft state, but they still manage to maintain strength and integrity.
The grass-fed, free-range beef is top quality, with a fine flavor brought up by just the right amount of salt.
The patties are cooked properly under lids, and remain beautifully tender.
On top there is lettuce, tomato, melted Gouda, and their “special sauce,” which is a ketchup-mayo mixture. It reminded me of California’s legendary In-N-Out Burger, which I had last September, only bigger and better. Seriously.
I thirsted for a cocktail to wash down this mighty beast. I ordered the Bourbon Sourball.
It’s a mixture of Jim Beam, lemon-lime mix, and fresh orange. Yes, there was pulp in there. It was the strong punch to palate I was looking for.
This was a weighty meal already. And yet I ordered another round of food — the Blue Smoke Burger.
This includes smoked ground beef, blue cheese, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomato mayo, and pickles (not mentioned on the menu) on a grilled bun.
Wow. I mean, wow.
I’m not a big blue cheese on a burger guy, but I loved it. The smoky, juicy 115 gram patty was something special. Maybe there was a tad too much onion and mayo. It was sloppy to eat and you will need extra napkins, but it was a rich, glorious mess.
I had only planned to eat part of it, thinking I wouldn’t have room for it all. I really didn’t, but I ate it all. It was that good.
I returned after I heard they added a bacon cheeseburger to the menu (185 CZK). This one included English cheddar, pancetta, ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles and onion.
Combining their excellent beef and bun with a generous amount of quality pork strips and cheese was the marriage of my dreams. Although they call it pancetta, it was a close cousin of the lightly crisp yet still pliant and smoky American-style bacon I crave.
I’d give minor demerits for putting the cold toppings on the bottom and too many sauces. But if you are looking for perfection, you’ll never find true love.
They were still experimenting with the fries on this visit. I had a mix of their curly fries, cross-cut fries, and regular fries. The first two were crispy, crunchy delights the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in this city.
The regular fries were not so crisp and didn’t thrill me. I was told they were changing to a different style of fries.
I also tried their “Tav Sauce” (20 CZK), which is mix of mayo, barbecue sauce and garlic powder. It didn’t sound too exciting, but when I tasted it, I was surprised how much I liked its smoky flavor.
I sampled the Tavern Wench cocktail (110 CZK). It’s Absolut Vanilla, Kahlua and cream.
This is a very sweet drink and is suitable for dessert.
On my next visit, I went for the pulled pork sandwich. This was amazing.
They wood-smoke their own meat, cooking it for hours into a terrifically tender state. Then they put it on a butter bun with plum-brandy barbecue sauce and top it with red cabbage slaw.
This is one of the few places in this country that you can taste a real American version of such smoky tender greatness. The pork just melts in your mouth. I enjoyed this pulled pork much more than the version served at the Hard Rock Cafe.
My only critique here is I think they put too much coleslaw on the pork. For me, it distracted from the beautiful porcine flavor. Even if it goes against American barbecue tradition, I’m getting the slaw on the side next time.
I had a beer to go with this. They serve Ježek (36 CZK/.5 liter).
It was cold and crisp. They also have interesting-sounding bottled beers like Easy Rider Pale Ale (55 CZK), though I didn’t try any.
I followed that with a margarita.
The Tavern does theirs with a mix of fresh lemon and lime, Cuervo Gold, and triple sec. Well done.
On my final visit, I had a hard time. I badly wanted to order one of the burgers mentioned above. Instead, for the sake of the vegetarians out there, I ordered the Urban Garden Burger (125 CZK).
The patty is made with lentils, brown rice, and mushrooms. It’s topped with caramelized onions, grilled tomato, and sun-dried tomato mayo.
I was shocked. I liked it. I’d even say it was the best vegetarian burger I’ve ever had (although, to be honest, I’ve probably had three in my life).
The patty had serious heft and a meaty texture. Sure, it’s mashed beans, but the important thing is it tasted good. I detected a slight crunch and was told there are also hazelnuts in there.
I enjoyed their sweet, fried onions, and it made for a substantial meal. Again, there was a little too much mayo for me, but my enjoyment was undiminished.
The last cocktail I tried was the Cranberry Brusinka Zinger (115 CZK).
This is ginger spice vodka, cranberry, fresh lime juice, homemade grapefruit mandarin syrup, triple sec and grenadine. Again, this was another sweetie.
I’d never met the owner, Lori, who works the bar and makes sure everyone is happy. She was super nice, friendly, and helpful. I didn’t meet Dean. He was busy in the kitchen cooking. The food came out unbelievably fast and piping hot.
I believe critics can and should find something to criticize. There’s always room for improvement. But I’m finding it hard to come up with any big complaints.
The best (or worst) I can do is quote a couple of friends. One told me his burger patty was overcooked and hard in places. And a British friend had never had a steamed bun before and didn’t like it, saying it was “soggy.”
Maybe the cocktails were a little sweet for my taste, and they went a little heavy on the condiments. That’s all I got on the downside.
On the upside, I can give you my highest recommendation. The Tavern is run by Americans doing perhaps the best burgers and pulled pork you’ll find in this city.
As of this writing, they don’t have a phone number and accept reservations via messages on their Facebook page. You will need one. With very little publicity, the place is perpetually packed on the evenings they are open.
I think that will continue. The Tavern is producing a lot of happiness.
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