Restaurant review: City Tavern

G.A. Benton

The team operating City Tavern must welcome a challenge. When City Tavern opened in March in the former Wonder Bread building, it replaced a business that failed twice in the same space — both as Cray Eatery and Drinkery and then as the rebranded Factory on Fourth.

And because the bar on typical bar food is generally low, City Tavern — which embraces a tavern identity — faces stiff competition from several recently minted, buzzy restaurants that share its Italian Village environs. Although more under-the-radar than such nearby establishments, City Tavern has things in its favor, not the least of which are a convenient parking lot and food that exceeds expectations.

Occupying a modest-sized, brightly lit, cubic space with a prominent bar, wood, bricks, plus plenty of TVs and windows, City Tavern looks like what it is: an unassuming, contemporary neighborhood sports pub in an old building loaded with character.

An extensive beer selection includes 14 brews on tap. Some house cocktails are offered, such as Lindie's Grapefruit Press ($6). Made with fresh lemon juice, grapefruit vodka and club soda, it's a refreshingly tart foil for the place's richer dishes.

That would include the City Shrooms ($9). After trying this meal-sized appetizer, I understand why it's called the “staff favorite.” Served with better crostini than I've received in far-fancier eateries, the “dip,”

which resembles the top of a deep-dish pizza to me, is a hearty amalgam of ground pork, cream cheese, sauteed mushrooms, diced, fresh jalapenos, plus a thick blanket of nicely broiled, brown-spotted mozzarella.

Although a bit smaller, the Hungarian Stuffed Peppers ($8) mine similar territory. Two cored-out and roasted, pickled-pepper tubes arrive packed with Italian sausage flavored with fennel seeds and topped with gobs of broiled cheese.

If something super-healthful is calling, the Quinoa & Kale Salad ($10) will get the job done. Its main component — a slaw made with broccoli, cabbage, carrot and shaved Brussels sprouts — might recall a blend bought in a bag, but a shower of sunflower seeds and quinoa, plus shaved Parmesan cheese and an effective lemon vinaigrette carry the dish across the finish line. It's certainly respectable, but I'd like it more if it were priced a couple dollars less.

For my money, The Reuben ($13), made with juicy, house-roasted corned beef, is so big and delicious that I hardly care that City Tavern assembles it without cheese. (Such dairy restraint seems oddly out of character here.)

As with all sandwiches, it comes with a choice of several huge sides. These include crisp and substantial house fries; fried-right onion rings; creamy mac-and-cheese sprinkled with breadcrumbs; and a satisfying slaw made with similar vegetables as appear in the kale and quinoa salad.

The Farmhouse Pulled Pork sandwich ($12.50) brings in a ringer: smoky, tender meat from Ray Ray's Hog Pit, a top-shelf local barbecue purveyor. Completing the medium-sized sandwich are crisp onion straws, tangy Ray Ray's barbecue sauce, an unnecessary but inoffensive fried egg — order it cooked medium to limit the messiness — plus a toasted poppy-and-sesame-seed roll.

Onion straws, barbecue sauce and the same sort of good bun — plus melted cheddar and a tightly packed ground-beef patty — show up again on the 670 Burger ($12.50). Too bad the promised sweet-and-spicy, house jalapeno-pickle mix didn't show up; my burger only had pickles.

Unlike most of its ilk, the Fire Bird Chicken Sandwich ($12.50) doesn't rely on battered-and-fried meat to be appealing. It is, though, thanks to a pan-crusted breast piece, zippy sambal-sriracha-lime sauce, melted cheddar, plus thick-and-crisp peppered bacon playing off flat pickle strips. As with most everything I sampled here, the messy but flavorful sandwich doesn't really qualify as “destination dining,” but it punches above its sports-pub weight class.

City Tavern

697 N. Fourth St., Italian Village