Elliot Nelson’s newest downtown dining spot offers a welcoming pub atmosphere and a menu full of tavern classics.
I have always been partial to good pub cuisine, for I love the family atmosphere (at least in pubs overseas) and the hearty food and drink.
It will always be special to me because my husband and I spent our honeymoon partaking in tavern culture throughout London and Ireland. It’s nice to know I can still get a pint and some delicious fish and chips much closer to home.
I dare you to stand on a corner in downtown Tulsa and throw a pebble without hitting an Elliot Nelson-owned restaurant.
Once zeroed in on the Elgin Avenue corridor, Nelson has branched out into Brady District territory, taking over the much-loved corner spot at West Brady and North Main streets and appropriately renaming it Brady Tavern.
Downtown denizens will know the space as the former Bowery Bar and Lola’s at the Bowery. The beautiful wood-topped bar is definitely the heart of the space, and the tavern décor is pubby and welcoming without being kitschy.
Nelson’s team definitely has a talent for capturing the essence of a theme without going overboard. As I seem to say every time he opens a new place, I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Nelson tagged chef Grant Vespasian to head the kitchen and menu development, and his experience in the kitchen at Palace Café shines through in the dishes. He has created a menu ripe with tavern classics, while using local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible.
He is also, as far as I’m aware, the first chef in town to break out the sous vide machine, which cooks, as the French name indicates, “under vacuum.” Food is sealed in an airtight bag and immersed in a water bath for a long period, at a relatively low temperature, ensuring that said ingredient is evenly cooked and typically much juicier.
Whether served in the shell or deviled, a classic tavern is nothing without boiled eggs. To quell our hunger while we perused the menu, we tried Vespasian’s deviled egg trifecta — a pair each of three versions: a classic version, a version with Southwestern spice and an Asian version with a bit of wasabi stirred in for added oomph.
We started dinner with an heirloom tomato salad (served caprese-style with house-stretched mozzarella, aged balsamic vinegar and a pesto drizzle for $12) and a country terrine (unfortunately, this item is no longer on the menu). The paté was rich without being fatty and paired nicely with the provided condiments. The boys at the table, who typically avoid paté, gobbled it up.
And then I got my fish and chips. The panko-crusted barramundi were light and tender, a nice alternative to the typically heavy beer-battered variety. They came served with mushy peas and sauce gribiche ($18), sort of a coarse vinaigrette, similar to our classic tartar sauce, made with hard-boiled egg yolks and chopped pickles and capers.
My husband, Tate, had the roasted lemon chicken with mushy peas and tarragon cream, while brother-in-law Bryan tried, at my urging, the sous vide beef tenderloin.
Both meat dishes were cooked to perfection, the chicken with a crisp skin and juicy interior; the tenderloin so tender you could have spread it on a cracker. The side of duck-fat-fried potatoes was a nice mate. My sister Mary, who, thanks in part to me (but mostly Michael Pollan), still doesn’t eat meat, enjoyed the rich mac and cheese side as her dinner but pilfered fries and a bit of fish from the rest of us.
While none of us had it that evening, you must try the Tavern Burger, a house-made secret grind of short ribs and brisket topped with rich Stilton cheese and a mushroom-cognac cream sauce on a challah bun. It’s worth slappin’ your momma for — or at least the person sitting next to you.
Sides tend to be seasonal and, when we visited, included grilled asparagus, white bean succotash and frites, in addition to the macaroni and cheese ($5 to $8). We tried them all — the table was covered with good food.
For dessert we opted for pastry chef David Robuck’s special of the evening. It’s amazing what one can do with a bottle of Cherry Coke. He created a dense cake — almost like a carrot cake — and smeared it with a super-sweet frosting made by reducing the cola down to a syrup and stirring it into a creamy frosting. It’s a rich one — it took the four of us to finish it.
Don’t overlook the drink menus. Mixologist Tony Collins has crafted an amazing cocktail and beer selection, as well as an assortment of wines and craft whiskey. I have previously enjoyed the Martinez ($8.50) — Plymouth gin, Vya vermouth, Maraska Maraschino liqueur and orange bitters — and the Bacon-Infused Old-Fashioned ($8.50) with bacon-infused Old Grandad Kentucky Bourbon, Grade A maple syrup, Angostura bitters and orange peel.
Brady Tavern also offers a lunch and brunch menu, but if you are feeling adventurous, book the chef’s table in the kitchen — yes, in the kitchen. The menu is tailored specifically for each group, or you could just let Vespasian do what he does best: cook.