Opened last April on the ground level of the historic Oakland Tribune building, the Tribune Tavern is a gastropub owned by a partnership of Chris Pastena (Chop Bar), Temoor Noor (Grand Tavern) and building owner Tom Henderson. Published since 1874, the Oakland Tribune moved into the building starting in 1918 and took on the Tower symbol in it’s masthead after it was added in the early 1920s. Under the latest management group which also owns the San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper is no longer located in this building and moved out for good in 2007. The Tribune Tavern is committed to keeping the history of the famous landmark building alive as the site where reporters typed out their stories. The history of the building itself is quite interesting, including a time when Harry Houdini suspended from the tower in 1923 (click here to read and view photos on their website).
The owners smartly hired Chef Huw Thornton to come up with the Gastropub fare. Thornton was a sous chef under Nate Appleman when he was at SPQR version 1.0, where the food was more rustic Roman-inspired fare than today’s incarnation. Those days featured many excellent fried items such as Brussels sprouts, chicken livers and their fantastic pork-four-ways (trotter and shoulder patty, ham, bacon, liver mayo and optionally topped with an egg!) sandwich that we often reminisce about longingly. We were fans of Chef Huw’s cooking and even ate at the very short-lived Locanda de Eva in Berkeley in 2010. Since then he had been consulting at places like the Bacon Bacon truck and cafe. Call us chef groupies, but we were happy to see Chef Huw land somewhere that was accessible to us via a short BART ride under the Bay.
The reporters and paper staff are all gone now, but the high columns of the newsroom remain, as seen in this view of the bar and the front dining area:
We started with a couple of cocktails: an Old Etonian (Gates of London Gin, Kina L’Avion D’Or, Crème de Noyaux, Kumquat Bitters) and a Front Page (Wild Turkey 81 Rye, Crème de Cacao, Elisir MP Roux Liqueur, Amontiallado Sherry). The Front Page was appealing since it was rye-based and used ingredients we wouldn’t normally use (when was the last time you used Crème de Cacao?), but it was dominated by the chocolate flavor and would better serve as a dessert cocktail:
The menu is comprised of typical tavern or gastropub fare, which thankfully means lots of meaty items and fried stuff. One part of the menu features “Potted, Spreadable, or Sliced Meats,” and our friendly server highly recommended the newly introduced Salmon Mousse which had just made it onto the menu. We thoroughly enjoyed this potted fish over laughs discussing Monty Python’s Meaning of Life vignette about the Grim Reaper and the deadly salmon mousse consumed at a dinner party (needless to say, this version only killed in flavor):
Tribune Tavern has an extensive beer, wine and spirits list (it is a tavern after all). The wine list is all domestic wines (not normally our preference), but the reasonable markups are less than 2X that of retail. We spied this Truchard 2008 Tempranillo from Carneros, a region known primarily for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We are always on the lookout for domestic vintners with old-world sensibilities, and planting a noble Spanish grape instead of Pinot takes some gumption. We were rewarded for our risk with a wine that was not overly fruity or oaked, possessing a balance that honors the varietal’s heritage:
We ordered the Pork Trotter Crépinette from the “Smaller” section of the menu. The flattened sausage patties served with a few dandelion greens over turnip cream were decadent, rich and comforting:
From the “Bigger” section of the menu, we took a half order of the Guilty Fries: a mound of French fries is topped with a deliciously thick beer and cheese fondue sauce and pulled pork (sorry about the bad photo, but you get the picture). Local critics don’t seem to like this dish, but we like our poutines with all the gooey goodness and this dish was definitely a guilty pleasure:
We also had to try Chef Huw’s Fried Chicken served with a colorful cabbage slaw, and we were reminded right away that this man knows his way around a fryer. The chicken pieces were excellent: moist from a buttermilk brine and super-crunchy on the outside:
After dinner, we were in desperate need of digestivi, such that we could pretend to cut down all of the fatty goodness just ingested. We spied a few Amari on their spirits list and ordered a glass of the R. Jelinek Fernet from the Czech Republic and a domestic Amaro Margerum made in Buellton, California (the City made famous by the Sideways movie). The R. Jelinek Fernet is much more quaffable than Fernet Branca, which many San Franciscans (especially bartenders) seem to love. We were impressed by the Amaro Margerum, considering it wasn’t made in Italy. This was the first domestic version that we have encountered and got us thinking that we are overdue for a trip to Buellton:
Service was friendly and efficient, and it’s great to see Chef Huw behind a restaurant kitchen once again. He did stop by our table for a quick chat, and we tried to convince him to bring back the heart-attack pork sandwich, but he could only shake his head as he remembered all of the ingredients they had put into that monstrosity. Tribune Tavern is a great gastropub that we have definitely put into our rotation, especially since it’s an easy trip with no worries about parking (at least while BART is not on strike).
Nov. 2013 Update
After seven months, Chef Huw Thornton has left and has been replaced by Chef Tracey Belock, formerly of Disco Volante.