Towne Tap and Grill
890 Town Center • 910-256-6224
Bottom line: Desserts are a win; skip the candy at the movies.
On my first visit, I sampled a litany of appetizers to get a long view of what to expect. My companion and I ordered two different types of chicken wings (Guinness barbecue sauce and Thai peanut), a Philly cheesesteak eggroll and zucchini fries.
The Thai peanut wings were far and away the best savory offering of the afternoon. Modestly spicy with a healthy dose of nutty flavor, the sauce brought out the best in the chicken. However, we weren’t nearly as enamored by the Guinness barbecue wings. Guinness Stout, which I adore as a beverage, has a coffee flavor and translates well to red meat. Yet, it leaves a lot to be desired when applied to white meat. Normally, I applaud innovation, but this attempt just plain missed the mark.
We ordered the zucchini fries, thinking we’d get an interesting take on the American fried-food phenomenon. Haricot verts fries remain one of my favorites and, when done well, they thread the needle between health food and sinful delectation (OK, more of the latter, but whatever). Towne’s zucchini fries did nonesuch. Though well-battered, they came out droopy and overly moist. With no firmness to back them, all we tasted was over-cooked zucchini and limp dough. Somehow the dish carried none of what I love about fries or green vegetables, leaving only the worst parts of both.
But the fries were a masterpiece compared to Philly cheesesteak eggroll. I have to assume that some form of magic was used to accomplish this. How beef, cheese, onions and peppers can be fried together and still come out flavorless is a mystery I’ll never solve. Thus, the eggroll isn’t worth the calories.
Still, lunch was saved by dessert. Towne Tap and Grill offers an innovative approach for the sweet tooth: tiny ramekins, barely larger than a shot glass, with small desserts for $3 apiece. It’s restaurateur Ash Aziz’s signature on dessert, as seen from his downtown eatery, and Towne’s sister restaurant, Circa 1922. Though the tiny crème brûlée could have used a bit more caramelized sugar, the pots du crème and strawberry cheesecake hit the mark beautifully. The peanut butter mousse, with a tiny Oreo crust at the bottom, was a surefire winner. No one has ever gone wrong blending peanut butter with the rich taste of Oreo. Whatever miscues Towne had on its savory dishes, they got this one right.
I made a return trip a week later intent on trying one of their sandwiches. While I perused the menu, I decided to give one other dish a try. I ordered the soft pretzel with cheddar ale sauce, which came doused in butter and salted exquisitely (no one ever went wrong with a heavy handed application of butter). More to the point, the restraint on the salt was spot-on in Towne’s favor. I do love indulging in a salty dish which doesn’t dry my tongue; pretzel salt is wonderful but not if it’s all I can taste. The cheddar ale sauce proved another small victory, with smoky beer mixing tangy cheddar and red pepper spiciness. It gave me some hope that my second visit would be a triumph over the first.
First off the burgers on the Towne Tap and Grill menu can be ordered as a meat variety, a chicken breast or Portobello mushroom sandwich. I do appreciate the effort to expand the menu, but sometimes effort isn’t enough. I ordered the Chicken Grillmaster Burger, which had delightful fried onions, rich and hearty with a hint of Vidalia sweetness. Yet, the barbecue sauce remained watery and unimpressive, with neither any sweetness nor spiciness to recommend. Worst of all, the bun was as stale as I’ve ever been served. I’m going to assume cleanliness dictated the kitchen staff wore gloves when selecting that roll, because I knew it was stale the moment my fingers touched it. The horrible flakiness was unmistakable.
I’ll give Towne Tap and Grill credit where credit is due. The service was as quick and friendly as it could possibly be. On each visit I was treated very well. Still, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Towne Tap and Grill needs work. There are glimmers of hope, but good pretzels and desserts don’t build a solid menu. At this juncture, if you must try it, then skip the chocolate-covered peanuts at the cinema and go for their peanut-butter mousse.