Bernard’s Tavern, located on High Street just north of the Cap, lived up to its billing. The place certainly felt like a tavern, with lots of wood, most of it dark. There was a nice bar along one wall with five biggish TVs overhead at a good viewing distance—and all set to different channels. There were round cocktail tables, benches and high tables, with a small bandstand at the rear and even a pool table. I’d call this joint a happy cave, a good place to have a few beers or whatever after your softball game. And some (but not all) of the food was really good.
The extensive beer menu was found on a chalkboard over the bar, featuring lots of nice drafts as well as the bottled variety. I sampled several and particularly liked Goose Island Honker’s Ale, a smooth, tasty, hoppy and vaguely citrusy brew. The wine list was short, but decent. My first Bernard’s martini was large and initially without olives, but the server asked if I wanted them before I could say anything and came back right away with three good ones on a stick. No harm, no foul, right? Another night, the olives were included; go figure. I also sampled the Bellini martini, which was deliciously peachy and prettily yellow.
The first thing I ate at Bernard’s also was the best: the mini sandwiches appetizer. I opted for the “one of each” version. The two tender and juicy burgers were medium rare, with great flavor. One was topped with cheddar and caramelized onions, the second with blue cheese and Cajun spices. The third, perhaps the best of the distinguished bunch, was luscious pulled pork with barbecue sauce and crispy onions. There was even a small heap of salad. I wolfed down all three in a flash and still had room for dinner. But if you’re with a crowd of two or more, there’s also a Baker’s Dozen serving on the appetizer menu.
Other appetizers were pretty good. I quite liked the wings. Red pepper hummus was nicely flavored and came with long lines of fresh raw celery, carrots and cucumbers cut to size for dipping—as well as good pita pieces. Fried banana peppers were filleted and flattened, then battered and fried golden to the point where some texture remained. They came with a mildly tasty orange dip, said by the menu to be Thousand Island dressing.
Soups were surprisingly good. I sampled the black bean vegan, not expecting much. It was not thick, but quite tasty. Again not expecting much, I ordered the classic French onion and it was the real thing—mellow rather than vivid, with lots of onions and a big cut-to-fit crouton on top with plenty of melted cheese. When I commented on how good the soup was to the server, she said they were all house made.
I also didn’t have high hopes for the fish. Who expects good fish in a tavern? But the basil salmon was tender, moist and decently fresh. It came with a perfectly acceptable side portion of mixed carrots and broccoli. The other side was “garlic smashed” redskins, and these did not succeed, mainly from stale garlic flavor. Country meatloaf topped with bacon was another real winner. It was tender and savory with good texture. It came with carrots (either steamed or boiled just right) cut on an odd angle and—alas—those slightly stale garlic potatoes.
On the other hand, I had great expectations of the burgers, after the super mini sandwiches, but they were just OK (cooked to medium). Only the sweet potato fries were satisfying. A dining companion had the Santa Fe steak wrap: grilled skirt with tomatoes, avocado, corn, black beans, cheese and sauce. She said she liked it, and did not offer me a bite!
There was only one thing for dessert: skillet cookie. It was a large, hot chocolate chip cookie baked in (what else) a skillet and topped with lots of vanilla bean ice cream, French caramel, Swiss chocolate, whipped cream, peanuts and a cherry. No inhibitions here.
630 N. High St.
Atmosphere: Like a tavern.
Recommended dishes: Mini sandwiches, chicken wings, roasted red pepper hummus, black bean vegan soup, classic French onion soup, country meatloaf, skillet cookie.
Price range: Appetizers $7.25-$28.95; soups $4.25-$5.25; salads $3.95-$10.95; sandwiches and burgers $6.95-$9.95; entrees $10.25-$14.95; dessert $7.95.
Hours: Daily 11 am to 2 am.
Service: Good but occasionally slow.
Reservations: Accepted for large parties.