Despite his devotion to a healthy lifestyle (and vegetarianism), my father occasionally craves a Burger King Whopper. I have been known to go to ridiculous lengths for an order of fries from the O, only to collapse into hibernation post-fries. Tavern 1947 takes these unhealthy cravings and compiles them into one menu: short ribs, pulled pork, macaroni with bacon. It reads like a doctor’s list of “Foods to Avoid.”
Tavern frites are a perfect example of this level of indulgence: thick-cut potato wedges are covered in melted pimento cheese and shredded pork. Of course it’s salty, but the thick slices of fries are surprisingly soft in the center, and would be just as good more simply arranged. An appetizer of minis is a slightly less heavy appetizer options. The “minis” are a sampling of three different sandwich options, all in cute little buns, each with a different meat. All are tasty snacks, if not distinctive in-of-themselves.
Unfortunately, lighter options do not hold up. A salad with roast vegetables is just sad-looking lettuce with roasted mushrooms, peppers and squash. With a clever twist, four options of homemade salad dressing are served in a cardboard beer four-pack. They range from a simple Balsamic to a creamy Horseradish Lemon, though somehow they all manage to be bland.
The star of the menu is the Mac’n’Cheese. 1947 Tavern offers four varieties of this entrée, ranging from the unadorned to one topped with spare ribs. The Mac’n’Veggies , while rich, is not particularly flavorful, mostly due to its hollow béchamel sauce. The roasted veggies of the salad reappear in the pasta, but their flavor was mostly lost in the thick cream sauce. The pasta itself, however, is wonderfully al dente, adding a solid texture to noodles. A sinful Mac and Bacon uses a smoky, spicier pimento cheese sauce instead of the béchamel, yielding significantly better results. Of course it is rich to the point that after two bites it’s difficult to continue. But the peppery pimento coupled with crisp bacon makes it equally difficult to stop eating.
Tavern 1947 also offers more reserved sandwiches and this simplicity seems to pay off. 1947 Tavern’s take on the classic French Dip is simple but satisfying. Piles of roast beef and a slice of cheese are piled onto a fantastically crisp baguette from Allegro Hearth Bakery. A bowl of its juices, enhanced with rosemary, is served on the side. Dipping the sandwich in the juices softens up the crusty bread and adds a salty, savory flavor. Sandwiches also come with a choice of fries, Asian slaw, or a side salad. The Asian slaw is strangely flavorless, with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds adding only textual variation. But with the Tavern’s sizeable sandwiches, the sides are more of an afterthought.
During all of this caloric overloading, the atmosphere is comfortable and casual. Dim lighting from elegant square lamps reveals a tidy (and TV-less) bar. Booths are comfy, and a chalkboard in the back displays specialties and the twenty-five varieties of bourbon.
After leaving Tavern 1947, it’s difficult not to feel heavier and slightly disappointed. The generous portions of Mac’n’Cheese can no doubt satisfy any hungry visitor, but the dishes themselves hardly seem worth the added heft they carry. But as the name suggests, it is above all else, a neighborhood bar. With its welcoming and subdued ambiance, 1947 Tavern is a lovely place to spend an evening. It just may not be the best place for a meal.
(1947 Tavern is located at 5744 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Prices range from $9-$14.)