I knew that when my good friends, let's call them Debbie and Scott, returned from their overseas adventures, they would be eager to try out Ohio's only certified green restaurant, the Greenhouse Tavern. They had eagerly been tracking the progress of the construction of the restaurant for a while and this would be the first opportunity for them to try it out with a large group of friends and family. Debbie and I met up first at the Velvet Tango Room for a couple of refreshing cocktails and then headed over to the restaurant to meet up with all of our friends.
In my previous post on the Greenhouse Tavern, I was amazed by all of the food. The Ohio beef burger, however, absolutely astounded me. I have had plenty of excellent juicy burgers in my time, but that burger went above and beyond. It was simply, bar none, the best burger I have ever eaten. Many of my fellow Akronites took little time to say, "Whoa!" What about Louie's, they cried? What about Swensons, they cried? So, as the day for our visit approached, I was determined to once again vet the burger credentials at the Greenhouse Tavern and see if it still could cut the mustard now that I've eaten examples from the other eateries in question.
Our dinner began with a selection from the wine list. Lately I've been on a mild red kick. Nothing too assertive, but still with a lovely berry nose. Today I chose a glass of the 2007 La Grange de Piaugier syrah:
An excellent selection, this paired well with nearly every course except for the oysters I shared with Debbie. More on that later.
First to come to the table was the bread service. In the two times I have now come to the Greenhouse Tavern, the bread has always been outstanding. This time the bread had been lightly toasted and served with pork rillette. The last time I went it was duck rillette.
This is essentially pork that has been cooked low and slow until completely tender. It is then shredded and then additional fat (either pork fat or butter) is mixed in until the mixture is essentially "spreadable". The pork rillette they served today was absolutely delicious and was a great pairing with the bread.
Knowing that I was with my foodie friends, I decided to let them take care of ordering a round of appetizers. I went to the restroom to freshen up a bit and when I returned, plates just started appearing at the table. First up came the organic American prosciutto over grilled bread:
In much the same way that the fattiness of the pork rillette complimented the grilled bread in the previous course, the prosciutto added a lovely salty, fatty flavor to this bread as well. It amazes me how you can get two completely separate but similar flavors by these different preparations.
Next up are the French breakfast radishes:
The thing about this dish that surprised me the first time I had it and was reminded when I tried it again is how the simple preparation of the radish layered with butter and finished with salt can be such a wonderful combination. Because of how mild the radishes are, none of the components compete to be the dominant flavor profile. So you end up with the mildness and crunch from the radishes, the creaminess from the butter, and the bit of crunchiness and seasoning from the salt. A truly tasty dish.
Additional plates of food continued to appear and I finally managed to get a shot of my plate once I got a little bit of everything:
At 1 o'clock are the breakfast radishes. At 4 o'clock is the American prosciutto. At 8 o'clock are the warmed olives and ramps. I love really good olives and these were a shining example. Serving warmed olives seems to be a trend lately in restaurants; they are served as an appetizer and I find that I like them this way. It brings forth more of the fruit of the olive rather than just focusing on their saltiness. Finally, at the 11 o'clock position is a piece of bread that has the fromage blanc, or Farmer's Cheese, layered on it. Made fresh with cow's milk, this also had pickled thyme and olive oil added to it. Need I say that this was good? Well, I'll say it anyway. This was good. The herbal notes of the thyme added a wonderful earthiness to the cheese.
Thinking our appetizers were done, I was happy to see it wasn't when our next one arrived, chicken wings with roasted jalapenos, scallions, and garlic:
I'm totally a sucker for a chicken wing, even the bad ones. But these were a perfect example of a chicken wing done right. The skin was crisp and delicious, the meat inside was tender and simply falling off the bone and the seasoning was perfect. The roasted jalapenos had given up most of their heat and simply added a lovely fruity flavor along with the sharpness of the scallions and the garlic. I was happy to eat the two on my plate, but my friend Scott loved these so much that he ordered an entire bowl for himself in lieu of an entree.
When my friend Debbie saw that the menu offered Fanny Bay oysters with Meyer lemon mignonette and horseradish vodka, she became just giddy with delight. She and I agreed to split an order:
Here are my three:
I don't eat raw oysters all that often. It's just not something that I normally crave. But every now and again, the opportunity will come up for me to try them and I'm so glad I tried them today. They were incredibly fresh and smelled sweetly of the sea. The Meyer lemon mignonette succeeded in enhancing the fresh briny flavor of the oysters without overpowering them. But what really put this dish over the top was the horseradish infused vodka. Just a little sip of the vodka with each oyster took an already excellent dish and elevated it to a higher level. The vodka flavor disappeared and all you were left with was the ultra clean horseradish flavor and bite. A perfect pairing, if you ask me. Debbie was equally impressed with this dish and she is a stickler for freshness when it comes to seafood.
In what can only be classified as serendipity, Debbie and I hatched a plan so that we'd both be able to try the Ohio beef burger and another entree. She would order the burger, I would order a different entree, then we'd split both and share. Perfect! Another opportunity to try the burger and a different entree all at the same time.
I decided to go with a new addition to the menu, the spring pasta:
That's a poached egg on top of the pasta. Once cut open, the lovely yellow yolk spread throughout the dish:
This dish contained homemade pasta, more of the delicious pork rillette, carrots, celery, fresh porcini and French trumpet mushrooms and of course that lovely egg. To borrow a phrase from Steve Martin, this dish was simply marvelous. I can see why they called it a "spring" pasta; the availability of the mushrooms used in the dish are only available right now. However, this was also a very rich dish. Everyone who tasted it immediately felt it was more of a fall or winter dish. Nomenclature issues aside, the flavor and texture of all of the ingredients was wonderful and it was seasoned perfectly.
Debbie decided to order her burger medium rare. At any other restaurant I would order it medium well to avoid any bacterial issues. But the last time I was here I ordered it medium and was quite pleased, and I normally order my steaks medium rare, so I didn't have a problem with this.
Here is a shot of Debbie's burger and rosemary pommes frites:
And a shot of my half:
Alright, moment of truth time. Would this burger take me back to the last time I had this? Would this still be the king of all other burgers? In one word? Yes. In two words? Hell, yes!
The burger comes simply adorned with a slice of roasted tomato and Raclette cheese. The bun has been buttered and grilled. Additional condiments are available, but they are completely unnecessary. In fact, I think they would detract from this most perfect burger. Honestly, I feel almost shameful eating this burger because you want to eat the entire burger in one bite and at the same time slowly nibble so as to prolong the experience. Eminently juicy and seasoned to perfection, this truly is burger nirvana for me. If it were legal in the state of Ohio to marry a burger, I'd be engaged at this very moment. And I would have no problem giving up all other burgers (even a Galley Boy) if I could only have this burger for the rest of my life. It is simply that good.
For dessert, I decided to try some of Jeni's homemade ice cream. Jeni's is a small shop out of Columbus that turns out small batches of very unique flavors. Tonight's offering was Gravelly Road:
And a shot of the ice cream:
Gravelly Road consists of salted caramel ice cream that has been studded with smoked almonds. Clearly an adult version of Rocky Road, this ice cream was extra rich and creamy and the salted caramel and smoked almonds worked well together. And while you don't need a huge scoop of the ice cream to enjoy it, the tiny spoon they serve it with just seems out of place and a bit too much of an affectation. A regular spoon would be just fine, thank you.
Served with the Gravelly Road were two homemade gingerbread cookies:
Sprinkled with a bit of coarse sugar, these were a nice foil to the richness of the ice cream. They had a nice blend of ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Assertive without being overly so. The ice cream was definitely the star of this dish and the gingerbread cookies were perfectly happy to play the supporting role.
Now as I'm sure you have probably picked up by now, gentle reader, this was a behemoth of a meal. We were at the restaurant for a good 2 1/2 to 3 hours. And we consumed vast quantities of both food and drink. When push came to shove and we finally settled the bill, my portion with one glass of wine came to only $50, including tax and tip! While I know that not everyone can afford $50 per person on a night out on the town, if you simplify the order to a shared appetizer and an entree apiece, a check for two people might only run you a total of $40-$50. Certainly doable as a once-in-a-while treat.
Happily, the Greenhouse Tavern was nearly packed during our visit. In these current economic times, it is important that we spend what precious dining dollars we have on places that offer up something unique and delicious and support our local farmers as well. For all of those Louie's and Swensons burger lovers out there, I challenge you to try the Ohio beef burger at the Greenhouse Tavern. It redefined what the ultimate burger was for me and I think it can do the same for you.