Dark, moody and inviting, Grand Tavern in Neptune City could be the setting for a British mystery, with its horseshoe-shaped mahogany bar, chummy high-topped tables, leather banquettes and old-fashioned patterned wallpaper straight out of a powder room off a proper parlor. There’s a wide-range of drinks in every category.
Since Grand Tavern opened last April, folks in the mid-Monmouth County coastal environs have had this newfangled old-fashioned pub to call their own. It was created by alums of the Asbury Park-based Smith Restaurant Group (Porta, Brickwall Tavern, Pascal & Sabine): chef Paul Holzheimer and partner Ashley Coyle. On a Saturday evening, chicken roasted and flecked with mushrooms and ladled with brandied cream sauce beckoned, as did the locally-praised Grand Tavern burger, set on a brioche bun and crowned with caramelized onions.
The small dining room is maxed out by the dominating bar and by tables and chairs that barely avoid a squeezed-in look. You can peer into the open kitchen. On our visit, the bar crowd was settling into place; double-dating couples were snagging the four-tops. Suddenly, everything was busy and buzzy.
From the open kitchen came the warm lentil salad that—cosseted with a confit of mushrooms, nibs of hazelnuts and celeriac lightly charred—was almost a stew. Apples and pears, fruits of the season, were roasted and swathed in browned butter before being served with milky house-made ricotta, a dollop of prune butter and toasted walnuts. All very bistro, the soul-satisfying fare was nothing short of sincere.
There’s always a market fish on the menu. On one visit, our server first called the offering “grunt,” then said that the kitchen dubs it a kind of sea bass. No matter; it was meaty, mild, a smidgen sweet and the perfect partner to a creamy purée of butternut squash (not shy on butter) as well as a rasher of Beluga lentils and a swirl of hollandaise.
A German-style pancake, plied with caramelized apples, maple-infused whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar was last on our docket. It’s the only dessert offered, and the only dessert needed.
Grand Tavern sports a list of cocktails that’s far-ranging and a tad sassy (Penny Lane, with mezcal, Chartreuse, Aperol and lime, anyone?) and beers on tap that rotate among the best of Jersey’s own. The wine list is wise to the tenor of the menu and leans Old World in origin or style.
Grand Tavern’s success will be based on nothing mysterious at all: good quality, soup to nuts.
Grand Tavern, 1105 Sixth Avenue, Neptune City, 732-774-0120 thegrandtavern.com
Open: Daily 5 pm to midnight; kitchen closes at 10 pm