Friar Tuck's Tavern: Calling all merry men and women
I won’t lie: as a huge fan of historical English dramas, I’m a quick sell on any eatery that offers any level of “ye olde-ness.” Mystic, therefore, becomes a fun day trip for this resident of the other side of the river. With its numerous centuries-old buildings conducive to hunkering down and setting the world to rights over spirits and victuals — oftentimes in the company of the resident ye olde ghost — I’m game to drive in and channel my inner sea captain when duty calls.
This time, however, we had to shift to more of a Robin Hood vibe, because duty called us to Friar Tuck’s Tavern, nestled in the lower level of the (haunted) Emporium building. Not a problem, especially when the menu promises comfort foods that have stood the test of time and a long list of beers on tap.
Indeed, you don’t often find Scotch eggs on any tavern menu, but Friar Tuck’s shows its commitment to “traditional English fare with a touch of New England flair” in offering a treat allegedly invented in 1738 ($7 or $4 during Happy Hour). For the unfamiliar, a Scotch egg is a baked or fried soft boiled egg, wrapped in sausage and coated in bread crumbs. (Friar Tuck’s serves them fried.)
If you’ve ever tried to make Scotch eggs, you know that they are a labor-intensive project, and we wondered how a small eatery like Friar Tuck’s could meet demand with Scotch eggs worth eating. Apparently, the chef knows the secret, because the speed with which ours arrived and its excellent flavor, texture and construction suggested wizardry afoot in the kitchen. It’s a hearty dish for sure, and in the wrong hands, a Scotch egg could easily become a dense ball of greasy protein, but Friar Tuck’s elevates the experience with expert seasoning, perfect preparation, and a side of very tasty, silky smooth (and not at all salty) bourbon gravy.
It’s a miracle we made it to entrée time, because we paired our Scotch egg app with Loaded Tuck Chips ($10), an even heartier appetizer on the specials menu. “Chips” here is meant in the UK sense, so what you get are French fries loaded and baked with Reuben sandwich fixings — corned beef, Swiss cheese sauerkraut, etc. Yes, it sounds like Super Bowl food, but at the very least it’s well executed Super Bowl food, thanks in part to the generous application of both cheese and beef, which added an enjoyable layer of savory flavor to the seasoned, rough-cut fries. Luckily, four of us shared the app, and all four of us got our fill and then some by the time we hit the bottom of the basket.
After that app, we should have all ordered salads (there are two available on the menu), but we doubled down on the hearty fare across the board. Note: We enjoyed everything we tried, but Duncan’s Shepherd’s Pie ($17) emerged the standout favorite, and that’s probably because the featured ground meat in Friar Tuck’s version is lamb, beautifully seasoned and tender. The rest of the dish included the standard mashed potatoes and veggies, balanced to let the lamb shine through but without sacrificing flavor — on their own, the potatoes would have been wonderful.
Close seconds to the shepherd’s pie were the Open-Faced Steak Sandwich ($20; comes with fries) and the Pepper Crusted Pork Tenderloin ($19), which is listed as a “Signature item” on the entrée menu. I can see why it’s so designated, because every aspect of it was truly delightful, from the loin itself, with its light crust of seasoning and drizzle of bourbon gravy, to the creamy mashed potatoes and the delicious side veg of sautéed peppers, done simply in some oil and likely just salt and pepper. We were surprised to see such relative lighter fare on the menu, but that surprise became the pleasant kind.
There was also much to love about the open-faced steak sandwich, starting with the main attraction. Ours was served medium rare if the color was any indicator. We weren’t asked to specify how we wanted it cooked and it didn’t occur to us to ask, and perhaps that decision falls to the kitchen for this dish, but take note if you like less pink in your steak.
We were all fine with the pinkness level and that’s a good thing, because the steak, a marinated flank steak served atop thick triangles of toast, was delicious and substantial at 8 ounces. Tender, juicy, and seasoned just right, it became even better with a dip in the accompanying jus. The caramelized onions and Swiss cheese were a nice touch, but the steak was tasty enough to stand on its own.
As for dish number four, the Chicken Pot Pie, we liked it well enough. Our bone of contention is the epitome of a first-world problem, but I’ll report it anyway. When one thinks of chicken pot pie, one tends to envision a molten chicken, potatoes, and veggies encased in a pastry shell, right? Friar Tuck’s offers a different take by placing two very good biscuits on top of the filling with no surrounding or base crust. Some would argue a crust is what makes a pie a pie, so I offer that only for those of us who really like a lot of crust in their pot pies. Crust preferences aside, the ingredients within hit all the right marks, with no saltiness that some pot pies can acquire.
Do you hear history calling? Or maybe a rumble in your belly? Or maybe you just want to have a good meal with some friends. Consider the trip through Sherwood to Friar Tuck’s Tavern for all of the above.
Friar Tuck’s Tavern
15 Water St. (enter on the side of the building), Mystic
Cuisine: The original pub fare; think hearty crowd-pleasers like pot pie, shepherd’s pie, and bangers and mash, with some surprises thrown in; also, many beers on tap, with tasting flights available.
Atmosphere: Insert just about any “ye olde taverne” image in your mind, and you’ll likely be in the ballpark. Lower-level stairs or ramp lead to a modest-sized dining room/bar surrounded by (tasteful) rough-hewn wood and brick walls. Very cozy. Live music regularly scheduled.
Service: Particularly helpful with beer-making decisions, and overall friendly and professional.
Prices: Not cheap but not outrageous: The most expensive entrée is Tuck’s Lobster Pie at $26, followed by Friar Tuck’s Open Faced Steak Sandwich at $20; beef burgers start at $13 (with a black bean option at $12). Happy hour offers great discounts on certain items.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 3 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-1 a.m.
Credit cards: Accepted
Reservations: Not available
Handicapped accessibility: Convenient parking lot leads to a solid, wide ramp to enter. The dining room isn’t huge, but thankfully the crew at Tuck’s hasn’t jammed the place full of tables, which enables easier passage from door to table.