There are few places more magical than Central Park. Even in the most frigid conditions, the stone bridges, icy water, and secret gardens attract New Yorkers from all walks of life. It truly never gets old; during every stroll through the park I discover something new.
Tavern on the Green, a classic and infamous New York restaurant, is by no means new. However, it has newly reopened after a four-year hiatus and a massive overhaul. Dining right in the middle of Central Park has long been on my New York bucket list so I was thrilled when we were invited to come try the established eatery for brunch.
My boyfriend Andrew has accompanied me to many a brunch and graciously accepted the invitation to accompany me to this fancy-pants feast. I dorkily had a little shiver of excitement as we approached the iconic doors, which were promptly swept open by a dandy doorman.
Before seating, we took a lap around the restaurant to survey the ambiance. The first thing that struck me was the sizable interior. 31,000 square feet is a pretty large restaurant anywhere, but especially in New York, where space is at an extreme premium. The space has an open feel and its numerous rooms spilled into one another. Each dining area has a distinctly different feel, from the dark mahogany entrance bar reminiscent of “old New York,” a modern-looking glass sunroom, and a lively back patio.
It was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning so we were seated under a large umbrella on the patio, giving us a great view of the Central Park runners. This was great people-watching, but did make us feel a bit guilty about the numerous courses of food and drink that were about to be consumed. Calories don’t count on the weekend, right?
During brunch at Tavern on the Green, diners have the choice between a $45 two-course meal with a drink and pastry basket or ordering entrees a la carte. Since this brunch was on the house, our charming waiter brought out a variety of treats to give us a taste of the menu’s entirety. Being a Bitch does have its perks.
Andrew whet his palate with an icy cold IPA while I went for the white peach bellini. Our beverages were served with a smile and the juice in my cocktail was freshly squeezed. We were off to a good start.
A basket of assorted pastries with tiny jars of jam and pats of butter magically appeared at our table. We unanimously decided that the flaky chocolate croissant and iced lemon poppyseed scone were the stand outs. I had to limit myself to sampling just a few bites of each freshly baked good in order to not spoil my appetite.
For our first course, I was drawn to the smoked Irish salmon served on rye bread with goat cream cheese and pickled spring radishes. Although this dish had all of the makings of a winning starter – hello, goat cheese – it was lacking flavor and was clunky. The bread overpowered the fish and was quite dry. I would skip this starter on the prix fixe menu.
Our waiter strongly recommended the mushroom soup, which was odd on a hot summer day. I’m a sucker for mushrooms and his rave review was convincing so we gave it the green light. Once the soup arrived, it confirmed my initial skepticism. It was pretty weird to slurp a hot, creamy soup during brunch in the summer. However, it was tasty and distinctively mushroomy in a good way. I never would have ordered a soup at 10 a.m., and I probably won’t again, but this would be a delicious choice for lunch or dinner.
For our main courses, Andrew and I split savory and sweet entrees. We started with the steak and eggs: grilled skirt steak with patatas bravas, red onion marmalade, a sunny-side up egg, and a lemon-tarragon aioli. This was one of my favorite dishes of the day. The steak was thinly cut and perfectly medium-rare, just how I like it. The potatoes were nicely seasoned with fresh herbs. Additionally, this dish was a reasonable size and allowed us to satisfy our carnivorous side without overindulging.
Next came the brioche French toast with fresh ricotta, roasted rhubarb and strawberries, and maple-black pepper lacquered bacon. I can’t turn down anything salty-sweet and couldn’t get enough of this amazing French toast. The ricotta toned down the sweet flavors while the crunchy bacon added a satisfying texture and just enough salt. Andrew and I were fighting over the last bites.
At this point, I was ready to roll out of my chair and down Sheep’s Meadow, but the dishes kept coming. Our server insisted that we must also try the farm egg strata, basically a quiche with spring onions, feta, and chanterelles. I could only muster a few bites, but enjoyed the balance of creamy cheese and plenty of veggies.
Seriously, don’t judge us, but three side dishes also arrived at the table. Our waiter really talked up the griddled onions and tomatoes, but we found them rather mushy and bland. The applewood smoked bacon was crispy and savory. I’m not much of a bacon eater, but they received my protein-packed boyfriend’s approval. Last but certainly not least, were the grits and homemade pork chorizo. I had to pick Andrew’s jaw up off the floor after he swallowed his first bite. The mouthwatering chorizo was slightly spicy and blended well with the grits. This was hands-down his favorite part of the meal, while I erred on the sweet side with the French toast.
Ok, really don’t judge us, but we had already gone so far off the cliff of gluttony that we closed our epic meal with dessert. This brownie sundae was bananas, pun intended, and worth every point on the Flywheel Torqueboard the next day. Fresh vanilla ice cream was accompanied by hibiscus marinated cherries, a rich brownie, fudge sauce, and peanut popcorn. The popcorn garnish was inventive and unexpected, and again hit home with that salty-sweet combination.
I can safely say that we ate our way through the Tavern on the Green brunch menu and checked off my bucket list item with a flourishing mark. The meal was decadent and overall quite good, as one might expect from such an illustrious New York landmark. Some dishes could use some refining, but Tavern on the Green would be a lovely brunch date or meal with your parents. I’d recommend dining early to avoid tourists and potential crowds.
The Bitches say: B. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for brunch, but the ambiance and sweet treats are worth it. Although Tavern on the Green has been panned for dinner, brunch was pretty tasty. Go once and sit outside to bask in the glory of Central Park and fall back in love with the city.
Tavern on the Green
67th Street and Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
(Upper West Side)
Tavern on the Green serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.