Tavern On 2 Shows Who's On Second
I refuse to believe reports that Tavern On 2 is the first and only gastropub on Belmont Shore. Surely, in such a densely packed urban quarter as Second Street, where every other storefront is a restaurant or bar, there has to be at least one other establishment that pours a frothy pint and serves a good burger. After all, what is a gastropub these days if not just a place in which to consume the two together? Whether it's the Crow Bar (the first gastropub in OC, which recently begat a burger spinoff) or the new Red Table, a gastropub without a burger is like a taquería without salsa.
I didn't really have to think about it at Tavern On 2. The 4-month-old restaurant does away with all the pretense of main courses and gets down to the business of burgers. Though he offers no plated entrées, chef Patrick Parmentier, who trained in France and was previously the owner of La Crêperie Café, isn't about to phone it in with Sysco factory-formed discs of ground cow in a standard bun. He's not even content with just settling for the beef he sources from Paso Prime Ranch. A burger here might mean a house-made lamb-and-pork chorizo. Or a Szechwan peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna. Or a falling-apart, mild-tasting Niman Ranch short rib he slow braises in amber ale and gilds with Gruyère and grilled mushrooms. For a so-called Poblana sandwich, one of the few not called a burger, he features a somewhat-dry, flattened, breaded piece of steak known better as milanesa and tucks it under properly toasted bread with onions, queso fresco and some avocado for a respectful nod to the torta, even if it revels in arugula.
In the Black and Blue Burger, one of the best here, a dark-lacquered pretzel bun that tastes like a ballpark treat hugs a thick patty, a stinging layer of Maytag blue cheese, a slather of sharp horseradish mayo and strips of rosemary-candied wood-fire bacon. If there's a burger that calls for a glass of something hoppy, this would be it. Ask your server which brew would sip best with it. Those who are otherwise shy or indecisive should consider a slider sampler, which pairs three kinds of bite-sized mini burgers with four complementary beers.
Whichever sandwich or burger you choose comes with a handful of crunchy house-made chips of the thick-as-tile variety and an easily ignored mound of dressed salad greens. This isn't to say you should shun the list of first courses, in which the fries are called pomme frites and are sprinkled with sea salt, truffle oil and pecorino cheese. But if you're going for any sort of fried potatoes, why settle for foreplay when you can go with the oxtail poutine? In it, garlic-potent gravy with whiffs of wine soaks into a mound of crisply cooked potato spears laced with duck fat. Meanwhile, a smattering of cubed cheese curds slowly melt and two pieces of vertebrae surrounded by a halo ring of jellied fat and tender meat beckon. The dish would be great as a standalone meal if you're able to shoo away the poutine poachers you've brought with you to dinner. Certainly opt for it over the tuna tartare, which is refreshing but bordering on gristly, or the Thai-inspired chicken wings, which are actually excellent, aromatic and lip-numbing even before you take them for a dip in a hot sauce that Parmentier should think about bottling.
But whatever the appetizer, be it the roasted cauliflower or the Brussels sprouts, all paths eventually lead to the burgers like a lighted runway. If the menu is a back-to-basics distillation of what makes a gastropub a gastropub, Tavern On 2 is also the stripped-down, no-frills version. It isn't more than a long, tight room, with nothing much on the walls except exposed bricks that seem to close in on you as if you're in a trash compactor. On the strength of its burgers and brews, I predict Tavern On 2 will outgrow the place, eventually busting down the wall to expand to the vacant space next door. I hope that when it does, it doesn't forget what makes gastropubs great: the burgers, the beers and that damn-good poutine.
This review appeared in print as "Who's On Second? Tavern On 2 is a gastropub's gastropub."
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