Undercover Foodie serves up the local dish: the newly opened Old Bull Tavern
By Author Unknown | First and foremost, foodie followers, I must apologize for my lack of ‘noshing’ over the last several weeks. Few things can deter a determined foodie from getting their grub on, but unfortunately, the flu has no compassion for one’s taste buds and appetite. I am pleased to say that bed rest and anti-virals go a long way to restoring one’s love of food and insatiable appetite. Lesson learned; get your flu shot early.
During my convalesce, I had visions. Visions of homemade food, of sleek atmosphere, of ambitious tastes and sensations. Upon feeling like my old self, with taste buds reawakened, these visions led me to downtown Beaufort. They led me to an establishment snuggled comfortably on West Street, just steps off Bay, where I settled into a nice booth seat taking in the relaxed sophistication that was permeating from the old wood features of Beaufort’s newest eatery, Old Bull Tavern.
With an atmosphere that’s moody and brooding, but in a way that is both endearing and enticing, it is easy to see why the place is just so attractive. From the huge bull mounted above the bar to the old wood tables and the big, oak barrel supporting the ominous candelabra lighting, one is transported to a place where the polished-bartender knows what ails you at first sight; where one could be so moved as to write a best seller over a pint; where camaraderie with one’s dinner guest is a given; and it is here that the assurance that you and your hungry stomach will walk away satisfied is of the upmost importance.
While enjoying a Westbrook White Thai beer, brewed from Westbrook Brewing Company from our neighbor Mt. Pleasant, SC , I feast on a delectable plate of sopressata, fennel salami, and le quercia prosciutto. Eliciting nostalgic memories from first bite, cured meat is something that hits just right tonight. Salty, spicy meat and shaved Swiss cheese piled upon the crusty bread. Biting down, I savor the flavors and immediately take a bite of crunchy gherkin pickle, which I normally avoid like the plague, but in this dish it’s a must as it provides the tart-vinegar flavor necessary to complete this savory flavor-profile and completes the flavor-nuance that the dish invokes. It is not until sampling that I realize that I’ve really missed a dish like this; the pairing of salty meats and potent shaving of cheese with bread and pickle take me to special memories of my youth and feasting on made-to-order sandwiches cut from the corner deli’s best meats. This dish does my fond memories absolute justice.
The nostalgia is not contained within the first dish alone. It’s served up again with the perfectly portioned plate of Pork Shoulder that’s laid at my hands, cooked in milk with rosemary, garlic and onions, and served with mashed potatoes, green beans and a few slices of carrot. Taking my fork and piercing the flesh I discover meat so tender that my knife is rendered a completely useless tool, and upon first bite, I encounter meat so juicy that it allows you to fully appreciate the savory cut while admitting sighs of relief and satisfaction that it’s completely moist and not at all dry. The dish is served with a delightful compliment of a gravy-like glaze, likely straight from the cooking pot, that hits your tongue slightly sweet but finishes creamy but understated, allowing the pork to come through the flavor and remind you that it is the star of the dish.
Now, cooking a piece of meat in milk may seem rather odd, but I assure you that the result is nothing short of tasty. The fats and sugars from the milk, when cooked down with the rendering of the pork, help to infuse the meat with moisture and create a divinely tasty and mildly rich sauce that aids as a gravy, not provided out of any sort of necessity (which is sometimes done due to dryness), but simply because its flavor compliments the already flavorful Shoulder.
What lies in wait for me under the chunks of juicy meat are probably the most delicious mashed potatoes that I’ve eaten in my life. Ever. Even though I feel these words are blasphemous against my own father’s famous mashers, I must be honest with you, these mashed potatoes were exquisite. Yes, I know they’re just mashed potatoes but when you have experienced the greatest of the great, regardless of the genre, you stand in awe. I am in awe of these potatoes; light, fluffy, moist, rich in flavor but not in thickness, they melt in your mouth and are the perfect support to the pork shoulder. Rounding out the dish are crunchy green beans and subtly sweet carrots that offer contrast with a nice crunch, a counterpoint of freshness and brightness against the rich potatoes and meat.
Not only am I blown away by this delicious dish, but it evokes wonderful memories for me, nostalgia taking me back to my childhood of sitting around my grandmother’s diningroom table with extended family on a Sunday afternoon, eating a “supper” consisting of slow-cooked pot roast with potatoes and veggies. But this dish in front of me is what Sunday afternoon suppers simply desire to be. Complete, homey, but so well executed that your traditional Sunday afternoon suppers will never taste the same. Old Bull Tavern’s elevated, adult version of this meal is what my grandmother’s version always aspired to be, but never achieved. Sorry, grandma.
And since I’m a foodie that is always willing to add tasty exceptions to any rule, my hand is forced when I see Tiramisu on the menu and come to find out the chef had spent time cooking in Italy, no doubt refining skills and perfecting Tiramisu, so I order. Though I do not have much of a sweet tooth, I’ve always made the exception for Tiramisu. Having grown up on good tiramisu and, unfortunately, eaten my fare share of bad restaurant Tiramisu, I have a tough gauge which to compare this chef’s rendering. But upon first bite, it is evident that this chef knows precisely what a good Tiramisu should taste like.
A delectable layered dessert of ladyfingers dipped in coffee (sometimes with amaretto), with creamy decadent mascarpone-based custard, and dusted with hazelnuts and drizzled with hazelnut Chocolate. Perfection. The chef has produced creamy decadence that’s not overtly sweet, yet moist and luxurious. The perfect balance between richness from the chocolate and coffee soaked ladyfingers and mildness from the mascarpone, this dessert is worth every last calorie, and makes me glad that Mr. Foodie isn’t here so that I don’t have to share. So mean, yes, I know. But this dessert, and in turn, this entire meal, has given me cause to bring Mr. Foodie back for a second serving, which I look forward to doing in the near future.
What makes the Old Bull Tavern a shining star on West Street is that it brings a completely new culinary world to Beaufort and adds something significant to the ever diverse palette that already exists in this gastro-centric town. Offering Old-World flavors that are familiar and comforting and often memory provoking and taking them to an unprecedented level of refinement and sophistication, Old Bull Tavern has placed their bid to be one of the best in town and is bringing their arsenal of fresh, revolving dishes, elegant flavors, affectionately morose atmosphere (a compliment, I swear), and ability to elicit your favorite food memories with their already-polished techniques.
Stop in, have a pint, order a delicious plate of food, and stake claim on your ‘regular stool.’ You’ll be happy you did.
This Foodie quite happily gives the Old Bull 5 out of 5 forks.