It's almost impossible to pass Washington Square Park without taking note of Park Tavern, the nascent brasserie-style restaurant from Marlowe team Anna Weinberg and Jennifer Puccio. Raw wooden tables and metal bistro chairs line the sidewalk, occupied by diners sipping craft cocktails and nibbling from small plates of Dungeness crab on sourdough. On a sunny day, there's something downright aspirational about the place -- who doesn't want to be them?
Stepping inside the restaurant, it's even easier to see why Park Tavern has generated so much buzz since opening last fall. The broad, rustic dining room has all of the makings of a casual, comfortable and upscale eatery, from the exposed beams running along the ceilings to the long, monochromatic bar with cushy stools and pendant lighting. On the left opens the general seating area, where dark leather booths are situated against the walls, facing tables adorned with minimalist silverware and a view into the kitchen, where line cooks plate each dish. It's relaxed and welcoming, but opulent enough for a special occasion.
During brunch hours (Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) this posh-meets-easygoing balance can be a hard one to achieve, and a glance at the menu shows the team is going more for the former than the latter. The "Fruit & Grains" section features a ruby red grapefruit brulee and a "boozy smoothie," made with banana, bourbon and coffee. Toast choices aren't white or wheat, but instead include Challah and olive bread, and one salad pairs salmon crudo with roe, creme fraiche, and pea tendrils. Oh, and potato chips -- house-made, of course.
Take advantage of the cocktails; Park Tavern has become known for its lively bar, which mixes up some surprising concoctions with success. The Hummingbird ($9) fits the daytime mood, with St. Germain, kumquats and "bubbles," according to the menu. It's not strong -- in fact, you can barely taste the alcohol -- but has a refreshing floral taste and mild sweetness. The bar offers five different spins on a Bloody Mary, the spiciest of which is the PT Bloody Mary ($10), spiked with horseradish and topped with a skewer of pickled green bean and beef jerky. Not vegetarian-friendly, as the menu dutifully notes.
It's nice to see them having fun with the food as well, throwing "whiskey raisins" in your morning oatmeal. Still, many of the main dishes feel too heavy for noon, such as a country ham steak ($17; none of the entrees are cheap). Start by sharing a bite from the Toast menu amongst the table, which can be sweet (cinnamon-sugar) or savory (avocado and lemon). The olive bread, Mangalitsa prosciutto and sweet butter ($8) combination stars meltingly tender, thinly sliced prosciutto on top of toasted olive bread, rendering the sweet butter layer unnecessary -- but with just a small taste per person, the dish feels like a treat.
The "Eggs & Savories" follow a similar trend, showcasing extravagant ingredients in brunch courses. Crispy polenta cakes ($15) are deliciously creamy on the inside, topped with poached eggs and surrounded by a variety of sauteed wild mushrooms and wild arugula. On top of each egg is a dab of truffle salsa verde, and shavings of parmesan cheese are scattered across the plate. Each of the components stands out on its own, from the nutty cheese to the fragrant truffle oil, and all together -- it's rich. The flavors mingle well, lively bite after bite, but the phrase "gilding the lily" comes to mind.
The BTC ($15) reinvents the ol' BLT, and Park Tavern gives its version quite a kick. A sliced baguette is filled with thick slabs of bacon, chopped lettuce and cheddar cheese, smeared with a spicy tabasco aioli and accompanied by a handful of those paper thin homemade potato chips. The peppery tabasco stars in this sandwich, which is messy enough to have you licking your fingers, but the bacon is too chewy and fatty to be wholly palatable.
Staffers are enthusiastic and eager to please, managing efficient, friendly service. Dressed smartly in black and white, waiters are doing their part toward the restaurant's overall objective: making you feel part of a charmed society. Live it up, order another drink and go easy on the bacon.