The crew behind Tabor Road Tavern has restaurants in its DNA. Part of the Harvest Restaurant Group which includes Roots in Morristown and Summit, Huntley Tavern in Summit and Berkeley Heights' Trap Rock Brewery, Tabor Road Tavern, at the intersection of Tabor Road and Route 10 West, is a destination spot for those who want to fall under its spell.
Be warned though. It’s tough to go there without making a reservation for your desired dining time. Lacking reservations, you are consigned to a two-hour wait or a table on the outdoor deck, which even in the sweltering July heat one night recently was filled to capacity. Best to make those reservations ahead of time and take in the handsome, rustic California ski lodge décor, which is evident even as you drive up to the parking lot. From the outside it looks like something Heidi would be happy gamboling about.
If you have to wait, the equally inviting bar is a good place to cool off, peruse the serious wine list and sample a specialty cocktail. That should put you in the right frame of mind.
Once inside, at least one member of Tabor’s efficient staff greets you and swiftly takes you to your table. It’s hard to ignore the boisterous buzz going on among diners, some of whom appeared to be celebrating a special friends’ night out, an anniversary or the end of the workday as evidenced by a group of male colleagues who were poised for a solid, “manly” dinner. Many of these folks appeared to be on the company credit card.
The central dining room is dissected by an enormous brick fireplace. No fire, but lovely candles enhanced the muted glow provided by pendant lighting around the room. Other rooms are off to the side and an open kitchen shows the crew at work. Black leather booths provide space for those seeking some alone time.
Once seated, you’re presented with a basket of diverse breads. The corn bread and dinner rolls were good and the carrot bread was warm and tasty, but the berry and nut focaccia was stale, the pretzel bread merely OK.
You’ll need some time to peruse the menus; we counted 29 items on the regular menu and easily another dozen choices on the evening special list. Both menus are loaded with tantalizing choices, from the jumbo lump crab cake for $13.95 to mini monkfish tacos on shaved iceberg for $11.95 and pierogies and kielbasa for $9.95 (when have you ever seen pierogies on a menu outside of a Polish or Czech community?) Give the tavern points for creativity and adventurousness.
We opted to start with salads--generous enough to serve two--served in hefty wooden bowls. A roasted beet salad with chopped egg for $10.95 from the regular menu was our first choice. We only wish it came with more arugula, which gave a nice contrast to the sweet beets and too intense vinaigrette. A special salad for a similar price was fresh corn, chick peas and hunks of goat cheese with some lovely frisee. Again, we would have liked more greens and could have done without the chick peas. And it needed more dressing.
Beef is prominent on both menus with choices like a char-broiled 8-ounce filet mignon for $33.95, a char-broiled hanger steak with Cuban style Yukon potatoes for $19.95 and a char-broiled 12-ounce New York strip for $29.95.
The special menu had an intriguing charbroiled “Cowboy” rib eye steak for $29.95 that was done up with some greens and rested next to some out-of-this-world potato hash bathed in bacon fat and pieces of bacon as well. That was the main course highlight.
Tilapia, salmon and sesame-crusted rare tuna are on the seafood menu, but we opted for a crispy East Coast halibut rested on creamy grits punctuated with roasted yellow corn sitting in a pool of basil pesto. We didn’t detect a strong basil flavor and there was a bit too much oil, but the halibut had an enjoyably sweet and crispy nature. which made it enjoyable.
As with many restaurants these days, side dishes are extra and pricey, usually around $5.95. They’re known as “check enhancements.” We wanted Tasso ham mac and cheese but forgot to order it in the hustle and bustle of the evening. We wound up with spinach, served like all sides in a mini-skillet to complete the outdoor atmosphere. Again, we wanted more. More butter, or cream, maybe even some nutmeg to jazz up the flavor. It was a sizable serving; we spiked it with salt.
Our wine options were a lovely sauvignon blanc by the glass and malbec from Argentina both for under $10. The enormous wine list has much to offer but prepare to do some serious damage to your wallet.
After all was said and done, we hardly needed dessert but felt we had to do due diligence. A vanilla roasted peach served with lemon thyme ice cream would have been excellent if the peach had been ripe. The ice cream was sweet and delicious, though. The knockout star, however, was the red velvet cake sundae. It came prettily layered in an old-fashioned sundae glass with red velvet cake, cream cheese icing and ice cream. This dessert was a red and white delight.
Tabor Road Tavern 510 Tabor Rd., Morris Plains. 973-267-7004 Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Dinner Monday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.