Busy schedules and hectic lives being what they are, it’s always nice to have an alternative in the dining scene where you can multi-task — get in some family time, grab some dinner, have a beer or glass of wine, browse through a museum and learn more about our nation’s formation…Whoa, back up a second there, Cowboy…
When foodie friends Leo and Jess invited us to dinner with young studs, Luke and Logan, we found ourselves looking for a place that would present a family atmosphere, be inviting and interesting to the kids and still satisfy our craving for interesting food and an adult beverage or two. While Boomers, Chuck E Cheese and IHOP were all in serious contention, the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum, opened in early 2014, eeked out honors for the evening.
The Carlsbad establishment is a stunning 22,000 sq. ft. replica of Boston’s original Green Dragon Tavern, demolished in 1854, where Sam Adams, Paul Revere and other founders met in secret to plan the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Paul Revere departed the Green Dragon Tavern for his famous ride to Lexington and Concord notifying Patriots that “the British are coming!” and “One if by land, two if by sea”.
As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I wonder if we really understand why the Paul Revere ride was such a heroic undertaking – was it really that big of a deal? It might hard to imagine the turbulent times when the colonies were beginning their fight for independence and the very lives of the men that we have come to know as our nation’s founders were at risk for their commitment to securing our freedom.
So, Paul Revere rode around the countryside yelling a warning that we were about to be attacked by the British Empire. In the full dark of night, not a streetlight to be seen. Down uneven dirt trails and paths at breakneck speed on a horse, without a seat belt or airbag. Along the foggy coast, probably soaked to the bone by the mist, without even the light of the stars or moon to navigate by. Into towns that were on high alert with men at arms and militia ready to shoot at anything that moved. Heck, most of us won’t even take the trashcans to the end of the driveway in conditions far kinder than that. Yep, it was kind of a big deal. Anyways…
The entire building inside is a museum. Pictures and replicas of historical documents line the corridors and the main museum space is decked out with posters and collected memorabilia dating back to the pre-revolutionary days of our country. Admission is free and guests are welcome to meander and enjoy the offerings with a glass of their favorite beverage in hand. An onsite coffee shop, bookstore and banquet room transform this facility into a welcoming destination for all demographics.
For a more traditional dining experience, there is a formal dining room on one side of the main entrance. But this, the “tavern” side of things was too gorgeous not to dine in. What is it about a room decked out in beatifully stained and fitted wood that makes you feel like you’re warm and safe? Word on the street has it that when football season rolls around, seats here are claimed for hours at a time.
This was one of those places where we went for a reason — the kids. We were hoping for the best when it came to the food. The menu is varied and diverse. There are offerings from East Coast to West Coast, comfort to vegetarian. Such a menu in such an establishment can give one cause for pause. Are they trying to do too much? Are they trying too hard to please everyone? Doubts were quickly allayed after we dug in to this New England clam chowder which had a fabulous, creamy texture and depth of flavor.
The only reason this wasn’t the first food picture posted is that it obviously is not the most beautiful looking dish in the world. But, that is not the kitchen’s fault, it is mine. I’m going to come clean here. We are brussel sprout snobs. I know what you’re thinking and yes, we used to live in shame, cloaking our deviant desire for the perfect sprout behind fake smiles of satisfaction…but, No More!
Now, you wouldn’t think this would be the place that we would want to experiment with the menu. I mean, we had enough trepidation about the food going in. But, in the spirit of intrepid exploration and trailblazing innovation that our great country was founded on, I boldly asked our server to have the kitchen crisp our brussel sprouts. My exact words were, “They can’t get them crispy enough on the edges”. My opinion is that the crispier the sprout, the deeper the flavor and the more enjoyable the texture. The kitchen took on the challenge and slayed it, sending the sprouts out still juicy and flavorful in the middle, but with that accentuated, just on this side of burnt crunchiness that seems to make life a little better. Add in the savoriness of the crispy pancetta and the light maple syrup and then…
…picture us sitting atop a brick wall on a sunny afternoon, stocking clad feet and bare legs merrily swinging over the edge, sailor hats jauntily askance on our heads, popping crispy little brussel sprouts in our mouths and clapping and squealing with delight after each bite…
Then we headed down South to the land where everything tastes better fried. I’ve had my share of fried pickles, both good and bad. These were good. The aioli sauce was nice, but the spicy cheese sauce was like a flavor bath for these juicy little morsels. I lost a fingernail during the digit battle for the last pickle…
So, pretzels are just a form of bread, right? The best strategy with these piping hot, buttery, perfectly tender pockets of goodness was to dance around the fringes of the fray until everyone had both hands occupied and mouths stuffed so that the chances of being scratched or bitten could be minimized. Then, Bam, duck in nimbly to claw for any scrap still available. Just bread…yeah, right.
Off we traveled to the West Coast with a little Cioppino. This dish had that rich, savory tomato sauce base that the classic San Francisco invented dish is known for. The seafood was plentiful and well executed. Starting to see a theme here? Me, either. It was at this point in the meal that we were starting to understand that this was not just bar food — but then again, it was bar food… and comfort food… and gourmet food… and a wonderfully diverse experience.
Take al dente macaroni, toss it in cheese sauce and melt more cheese on top and you’re going to make friends. Load it up with pork belly, bacon and lobster and you’d better buy a bigger house, ‘cause the whole town is coming for dinner. ‘Nuff said.
Trying to be polite, I headed in with a fork to pluck a bite of the lobster salad out of this Maine style Lobster Roll so that I could have a taste. Everyone at the table insisted that I take the full bite, as the experience with the bread had to be enjoyed. I’m man enough to admit it – they were right, I was wrong. I’m allowed one mistake in judgment per week, so we’re good.
Over the last few years, it seems as though short ribs have become the beef version of chicken. They can be found on almost every menu and, while they are usually enjoyable, they seem to be… common. (Doesn’t McDonalds have a McShortrib?).
And, yet, there is something about short ribs, especially when you are dining at a place that seems to have a good handle on their flavors, that will have you ordering them to see if there is anything special about that particular establishment’s version. These were tender and juicy without too stringy a texture (as in cooked to death) with a nice complexity to the Osso Bucco like gravy and a gorgeous red wine overtone.
The Green Dragon Tavern & Museum — they have a lot of things going on – restaurant, tavern, coffee house, banquet facility, museum and tourist destination. “Headquarters of the Revolution” indeed. They are also a Revelation and a welcome addition to North County. If you can’t find a reason to spend a couple of hours here, you’re just not trying. Cheers, my friends!
6115 Paseo del Norte,
Carlsbad, CA 92011