Restaurant review: Bernard’s Tavern

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From the August 9, 2012 edition

Is it newsworthy to report that Bernard’s Tavern — whose boozy last name self-proclaims its truest identity — has recently added a few new menu items? I’ll answer that by asking another (multiple-part) question: Do you enjoy hanging out in a handsome joint just to simultaneously watch multiple sporting events (like the Olympics and baseball) on multiple well-positioned HDTVs while knocking back multiple microbrews and grabbing something decent to eat — with priorities in that order? If you answered no, then Bernard’s is probably not your cup of Great Lakes or Four String Brewing beer. If you said yes, then — after a smidgen of background — I’ll offer some Bernard’s suggestions.

By mere virtue of its status as the only real sports bar in the Short North, Bernard’s Tavern carved out its niche simply by popping onto the scene a couple of years ago. Its roomy and accommodating mix of exposed brick and black-tinted hip neighborhood-appropriate character plus extended happy hours (dozens of brews and several appetizers are available for half off until 8 p.m.) translated into instant success. If its less-than-chef-driven food sometimes seems like cuisine can take a backseat here, that’s not to say you can’t score some entertaining suds-slamming buddies.

Spicy, crunchy and inexpensive are my favorite adjectives for sporty and fun-to-fire-extinguish beer snacks, and those modifiers apply to these happy hour-discounted starters: Devil Hot-sauced Chicken wings (12 for $4.50), Fried Banana Peppers (a heaving platter for $3.75) and nifty new taquitos (five biggies for $4). Except for a fine crispiness and a zingy if not quite explosive sauce (think Buffalo-style on steroids) the popular flappers are pretty standard-issue. I only wish the puffy, fish-n-chippy-battered spicy pickled peppers were also as common — because those silly things were a giggly rush to munch on. Best of all were the attractively flaky taquitos — long, tightly rolled, un-greasy golden brown fried tortilla logs packed with salty and spicy Mexican chorizo.

For more rib-sticking fare, you cannot err with one of Bernard’s big, thick and grill-seared hand-formed, half-pound, real-deal hamburgers. Sure, you can go with meat alone, ($8.50; all burgers come with fries) but at a go-for-broke place like this, I recommend throwing caution — along with discretion and decorum — to the wind by opting for an overloaded number such as the Ginny’s BBQ Burger ($11, excitedly described as “Our most popular burger!”). Spilling over with crispy and thick bacon, melted cheddar, a “no surprises” BBQ sauce plus a fistful of onion straws, it was a helluva satisfying messy construction, especially when partnered with crinkly, crunchy (likely pre-bagged) sweet potato fries.

Another recommended item is the Not Your Mom’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($7.50), with the new menu option of pot roasty beef short rib meat ($4 extra, and worth it). A mammoth, Texas toast-bound three cheese onslaught receiving richness relief from tomato and Dijon mustard made for a grown-up kiddie treat.

If the stout, creamy-gravy-doused redskin smashers and rosemary-kissed glazed carrots were the only scratch-made things in the massive Thanksgiving Dinner ($13) — unless your mom is a Martha Stewart-type cook (guilty!) — the assembly of those goodies with extra-thick slices of griddled deli-style turkey and Stove Top-like cornbread stuffing might be convincing enough to pass for authentic holiday fare. Either way, it’s a filling and comforting repast that pairs well with multiple sports and multiple beers.