Gut Reaction for Feb. 21, 2013

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 19, 2013 

Towne Tavern is at 1521 U.S. 17 N. in Little River, and the number is 273-0517.

Setting the Table

Brought to us by the same chef from Overtime Sports Café, Michael Gorman, the menu at the new Towne Tavern in Little River isn’t too long or short, isn’t typical bar food or too pretentious, but does have gastropubbish choices that are just right.

Towne Tavern’s general manager, Andy Frey, is also a manager at Overtime Sports Café, and his bosses have two other taverns in Fort Mill and Charlotte, N.C. It’s evident someone with experience turned Thee Pour House, which was a bit dingy, into a clean, spacious and comfortable pub.

An enormous bar faces diners when they enter. To the right is the main dining area with cocktail and regular-height black tables with contemporary ladderback black chairs. To the left of the front door are a few more tables and a couple of video games, and televisions are spread throughout the space.

Down the Hatch

A mistake many new restaurants make is creating an opening menu that’s way too lengthy for the kitchen to execute with finesse. Another mistake, especially at bar and grills, is a menu full of typical out-of-a-freezer-bag schlock, such as fried cheese sticks, onion rings and fried mushrooms.

Towne Tavern, on the other hand, has an interesting and manageable menu with six appetizers ($6-$11), one soup (French Onion, with gruyere) and three salads ($4-$8), seven sandwiches ($8-$12), four entrees ($12-$17) and five side dishes. In most cases the food is worth the prices.

The first dish I tried was my only disappointment. Crispy Rock Lobster Rolls are simply described as coming with baby greens, citrus vinaigrette and spicy Ranch dipping sauce. I was expecting lobster chunks and perhaps some fresh veggies in the two rolls, especially since they cost $11, but the filling is mostly cream cheese and was too rich for my taste.

Other appetizers include Coastal Shrimp Fritters accompanied by sweet corn/bacon slaw and roasted red pepper remoulade; Blue Cheese Chips; a Flatbread of the Day (when I visited it was roasted red pepper and goat cheese); and four flavors of Mac ‘n’ Cheese: smoked tomato/bacon/jalapeno, chorizo/caramelized onion, four cheese, and rock lobster.

The Tavern Salad includes baby greens, bacon, egg, grape tomatoes, Cheddar and Jack cheeses and pepitos; there’s also a Caesar and a Pear Salad with Anjou pears, goat cheese, candied pecans, pickled red onion and Champagne vinaigrette.

Sandwiches include hearty Oven Roasted Pork with braised red cabbage and mustard on a pretzel roll; Fried Green Tomato BLT with pimento cheese on jalapeno-Cheddar bread; the CB3 with bourbon barbecue, Cheddar, bacon and an onion ring; Buffalo Shrimp Tacos; Rock Lobster Reuben; and Croque Madam, which contains house-smoked ham, gruyere, sweet garlic cream and an egg on brioche.

I tried one of the entrees: Crispy Fried Pork Chops, which came with sides of New York Cheddar/jalapeno mac ‘n’ cheese and creamed spinach. The two boneless pork chops in a thick, crispy and highly seasoned breading were fine, but the sides were excellent. The breadcrumb-topped pasta had just the right amount of heat to be extremely pleasant paired with a beer, and the lightly garlicky creamed spinach was some of the best I’ve ever enjoyed.

Other entrees include Oven-Roasted Chicken stuffed with goat cheese and oven-dried tomatoes, and Tavern Steak Frites, which is steak topped with caramelized onion and blue cheese butter accompanied by fries. Fish of the day comes from Long’s Seafood a short distance down the street, which operates its own boats.

Check, please

That leaves dessert ($5-$6), and I loved Andy’s Bag of Donuts, which are freshly fried sugared donut holes served piping hot, with fresh Crème Anglaise for dipping, and sprinkled with house-made Boston Baked Beans, which is like a candy brittle. Another choice is a PB&J Sundae.

If you want to check out Towne Tavern at a discount, from 3-6 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, select eats are $5, including Chorizo Sausage Lollipops with pear jam, and goat cheese cream; and Asian Chicken Bites with teriyaki mayonnaise. Also during happy hour glasses of house wines, well liquors and imported and craft beer pints are each $3.

Towne Tavern has team bingo starting at 6:30 p.m. Mondays; half-price meals for women from 6-10 p.m. Tuesdays; $4 wine by the glass on Wednesday nights; and $4 Tavern’tinis on Thursday nights.

Becky Billingsley serves up fresh news daily at MyrtleBeachRestaurantNews.com.

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