In light of the atmosphere they have created and the quality of the beer they are serving, The TapHouse folks should strive to provide better food products prepared with more skill. With a little more effort, it could be a watering hole of epic proportions with the chow to back it up.
They have the libations covered. In addition to their regular golden and pale ales and the Big Nasty Porter, they are currently offering a superb barley wine and a Hefeweizen. The ales are in the English style and are nice contrasting sides of a coin. The pale is a bit sweeter and hoppier than the golden and is an excellent sipping beer. The barley wine is just slightly carbonated and chock-full of toasty caramel flavors. It packs a punch and they generally only serve it by the half pint, as my waitress informed me. The brews are consistently high quality and well-priced at $3.75 per pint and $2.75 per half pint. They do offer guest beers by the bottle and on tap on a rotating basis, as well as a full bar. My beer choices were excellent precursors to a meal that I was anxious to partake of.
I jumped at the New Orleans Gumbo ($5.25) described on the menu as "thick and rich with large chunks of chicken, andouille sausage, okra, onion and more." It was loaded with chunks of this and that, but the base certainly didn't seem to be constructed from a roux. It had none of the toasted, nutty flavor that slow-cooked flour concoction imparts to gumbo. Instead, it tasted like chicken stock with a healthy dose of filé added. The Beer Cheese Dip ($6.50) was considerably better. It is an appropriate and tasty accompaniment to the rich and unfiltered ales. The Old Nick Pale Ale was apparent in the mix but didn't overpower the savory blend of cheeses. Served with some very fine grilled sourdough slices from the Billy Bread Bakery, this was the highlight of my choices.
The entrée list is short; they offer only seven regular choices. I tried the Roasted Red Snapper and the Mixed Grill Kabobs, both $15.95. The Snapper was exceedingly tough. I couldn't cut through it completely without the assistance of a knife. The sauce looked and tasted suspiciously like the gumbo without the chunky parts and didn't complement the flavor of the fish. The kabobs featured shrimp, scallops and steak. The shrimp was overcooked and mealy. The scallops were prepared well but didn't taste like much. The steak bits were about a fourth of an inch thick, suggesting that they might have been carved from one of those pre-pressed steak strips. They were also awfully salty, pointing again to the strip theory.
As a whole, the food I ate was disappointing. I don't think that the food at a taphouse should be excessive or exquisite. It shouldn't detract from the beer. But I think that The TapHouse Grill could do better for its customers and, consequently, for itself by putting as much effort into the preparation of the food as they have in to the preparation of everything else.
TapHouse Grill ($$$)
1212 E. Cary St.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
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