Burgers and Banh Mi 

Food Review: The Urban Tavern brings trendy classics to the West End.

click to enlarge The Urban Tavern's po' mi sandwich, a cross between a Vietnamese banh mi and an oyster po' boy is composed of fried Virginia oysters, traditional banh mi toppings and a spicy remoulade.

Scott Elmquist

The Urban Tavern's po' mi sandwich, a cross between a Vietnamese banh mi and an oyster po' boy is composed of fried Virginia oysters, traditional banh mi toppings and a spicy remoulade.

In the middle of a strip mall in far western Henrico County sits the Urban Tavern. It’s about the least urban setting imaginable — you can’t walk there, the parking is ample and free, and the architecture is bland and nondescript.

But inside, you’ll find a restaurant that fits right in with Richmond’s burgeoning city-dining scene. The décor is hip, and the place offers craft beer and cocktails along with a sophisticated menu.

Owner Garland Taylor has run his fair share of restaurants through the years, including three Home Team Grill locations and the now closed Easy Street. But the Urban Tavern isn’t following a chain-restaurant formula, and Taylor’s experience in the industry clearly shows through. He’s assembled a solid team led by former Secco chef Tim Bereika and made good interior design choices. Inside, concrete, wood and black paint are accented by chalkboards and tile. The effect is a dark and intimate interior with a casual vibe that invites lingering and intimate conversation.

The menu doesn’t break new culinary ground, instead offering a collection of well-executed classic and new American favorites, including fish and chips, mac ’n’ cheese and banh mi sandwiches. Designed for sharing, the menu progresses from snacks to small, medium and large plates. Your best bet is to go with adventurous friends who’ll let you try their food and drinks.

Mixed drinks are both inventive and crowd-pleasing. The deliciously straightforward berry moonshine ($9) combines local Belle Isle moonshine with puréed blueberries, strawberries and simple syrup. There also are 24 varieties of beer on tap and a dozen wines are available by the glass.

Snacks include the perennially popular blue cheese-stuffed dates ($6), and salty sweet, beer-glazed bacon almonds ($5), made with Legend Brown Ale. Ratatouille ($7) is a classic take on the French vegetable mélange, with the surprising but welcome addition of crunchy croutons that manage to soak up the garlicky flavor of the tomato-based sauce without losing their crisp. The chicken-kale chili ($6) is an unexpected treat. Although more souplike than what you might expect from chili, the smoky roasted chicken and cannellini beans combine with earthy kale to make a hearty, warming fall dish.

Charcuterie and cheese plates ($15) offer thoughtfully curated selections, but unfortunately there are no choices left to the diner. Three kinds of cheese or meat arrive without an option to mix and match. If you like what’s on offer, the selections are very good and reasonably generous. The house-made chicken liver pâté is heavenly, with truffle oil moderating what can be a gamy liver tang.

Crunchy, sweet candied walnuts, roasted beets and a mountain of fresh greens topped with white balsamic vinaigrette make for a solid, if not inventive take on the beet salad seen on so many menus around town. The smoked trout and greens ($12) combine a generous portion of smoky fish, with pear and lettuce drizzled with sweet Dijon vinaigrette. I don’t order many salads while dining out, but these two win me over with their bold flavors.

Sandwiches range from the expected burger and chicken, to an oyster po’ mì ($14), a cross between a Vietnamese banh mì and a New Orleans po’ boy. Fried oysters lie on a crusty baguette, along with pickled carrots and daikons, and the sandwich is topped with cilantro and smeared with Sriracha remoulade. The flavors could meld well if the kitchen was more generous with spiciness and tangy pickles. As it is, the whole unfortunately is overwhelmed by the bread and fried oysters.

The Urban Tavern’s rotisserie chicken ($14/$24) rivals some of the best in town — impressive given the excellent Peruvian and Tex-Mex varieties available. Crispy, seasoned skin with exceptionally moist meat sits atop a garlic-infused, creamy sauce. The pork ribs ($16/$29) are less successful. The rotisserie method doesn’t fully render the fat and leaves an unpleasant mouth feel that detracts from the tender meat and sweet barbecue dipping sauce.

The Urban Tavern may not be innovative, but it brings some of the best American dining trends to a part of town that’s saturated with mediocre chains. The next time my West End friends want to meet up, the Urban Tavern will be first on my list of suggestions. S

The Urban Tavern
Sundays-Thursdays, 4-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 4-11 p.m.
10498 Ridgefield Parkway

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