The Tavern : Delightful, Casual Fine Dining Returns to the Brady Arts District

By on December 21, 2015

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“It’s the new fall menu,” says Chef Ben Alexander, “but we’ll change it a lot more often than once a season.” “Doing whatever we want to play with,” adds Chef Mark Loberger. “But still staying with Tavern tradition,” replies Ben. “We stick to our guns,” says Mark. “Technique must always be perfect, prep must always be right,” Ben elaborates. “A lot of our line cooks come to us green. They don’t know anything and we teach them.” “Teaching them is part of the fun,” says Mark.

IMG_6261Above : Chef Ben Alexander

Chefs Ben and Mark have been working together so long that they complete each other’s thoughts. They’re taking a rare break from the kitchen and they lounge by the bar in the Tavern’s newly remodeled and newly reopened home at the corner of Brady and Main. “Remember all those years ago when you first saw me at Wolfgang Puck?” Ben asks. “Well Mark was back in the kitchen.” Oh I remember that day well. “Even through the slack hours of a weekday afternoon, the kitchen is busy,” I wrote in a review that was never published because, sadly, Wolfgang’s closed its doors. “Ben Alexander, the new executive chef, moves from stovetop to oven to prep counter, executing orders with a balletic grace. His energy is inexhaustible; he’s passionate about the food. ‘I won’t serve it unless I’d eat it,’ he says. “And I’m VERY picky about what I eat.” “And that’s more true than ever!” Ben says when I remind him of that day. “Anyway, after Wolfgang’s closed I went to Sisserou’s,” Ben continues, referring to his days bringing the sultry Caribbean sun to Tulsa with his fabulous fusion cooking (and by the way Sisserou’s, across the street from the Tavern, is still dishing up that tropical goodness). “Mark followed me there. But then he left to work in some fancy places in Chicago. And then he came back to work with me again, and I just don’t know why.” Mark grins.

IMG_2684Above: Chef Mark Loberger

I’ve never seen those two so relaxed and happy. They’re mature, confident, at the height of their game. And they’re just thrilled about their new fall menu. As they should be…

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Here’s the Double Bone Pork Chop. Now pork chops are definitely a part of the Tavern tradition. Ben and Mark have taken the chop to a new level of goodness. It used to be that the first 5 or 6 customers each night could order the prized double bone chop, so thick that if you imagine the vegetables as barbarian invaders, the chop towered above them like the Great Wall of China. Now this unbelievably thick chop is all they serve. “If you grill that baby,” says Ben, “it will be all dried out and the middle will still be raw. So we sous-vide it at 135 degrees, then give it a good hard sear and it’s done. It’s simple, it’s easy and when you bite into it you get first the crisp sweet apple slices, then the crunch of pistachios, and then — BANG — the perfect pork.”

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And that’s just how it is. The mashed potatoes have a rich buttery taste that’s pretty killer too. The pork chop exemplifies Ben’s cooking style. It’s flamboyant, seemingly casual and deceptively simple. It looks easy, but it’s not. Hours and hours of thought went into it, hours of work are put into each dish. It might look like a simple roasted meat but it might require five hours of prep time. Like this honey braised lamb shank

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“We braise this in stock for about 5 hours,” Ben explains. “The stock has meat and honey. A LOT of honey cause we want it sweet.” And here it comes, big slick and glorious. I pull off some meat with a spoon. It’s so tender. I smash it into the juice to make it tender, snag a few pieces of the minced figs, then eat. SOOO good. “My favorite part is the carrots,” says Ben. “I put in cumin and a dash of orange.” They are indeed good, but they’re overshadowed by the lamb.

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“I first created the lamb shank as one of the Temporary Tavern menus,” says Ben. He’s referring to those all too short glorious summer months when the Tavern’s building was being remodeled and they relocated the restaurant in a vacant space farther east, recreating it each week, like a pop-up, with a new menu, no holds barred and with no limits.

“Wow!” I said to Ben as we left, “just wow!” “I’m just lucky to be surrounded by culinary talent — Mark, Marquese, and Trevor Tack too, he stops by.” “And of course you,” I said, and it was true. “By the way, where is Marquese? I haven’t seen him all night.” I was referring to Marquese Caldwell, a new addition to the team but a veteran chef. When he worked at another top Tulsa restaurant, I was worried one day because a chef I loved quit, and the staff told me, “you don’t have to worry as long as Marquese is in the kitchen. He’s the heart and soul of our kitchen.” “Oh Marquese,” said Ben, “he was back in the kitchen the whole time, cooking.”

 

The Tavern
201 N. Main St.
Tulsa, OK
www.TavernTulsa.com

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

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