Black Powder Tavern
1164 Valley Forge Road
What was Winberie’s for, lo, these past 27 years is now the Black Powder Tavern. The powers-that-be at Select Restaurants, who own and operate the establishment, along with four other Winberie’s in New Jersey & Illinois and seven other restaurants in the U.S., decided to put the bistro theme on a back burner while playing up the building’s historical roots, which has been either a restaurant or local happy-tappy since the mid-1700s. Apparently, the new Tavern takes its name from the Continental Army’s prodigious supply of black powder munitions that was stashed on the site.
In keeping with the Colonial theme, the restaurant’s interior has been completely redone and now boasts an expanded bar area, wide-plank barn-wood flooring, heavy, rustic tables, and warm wood paneling. Other decorative embellishments include assorted images of George Washington and a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence. These cosmetic changes are certainly attractive; unfortunately, they do nothing to alleviate the noise level – which has always been (and continues to be) significant – aided and abetted by a host of young couples who seem content to let their rambunctious progeny run amuck at will.
On a positive note, however, the food, which under Winberie’s banner had been eminently forgettable, has improved dramatically. It is basically American comfort fare spiked with a few interesting twists and turns; and the menu offers diners small plates (read here “appetizers”), soups & greens, pasta, burgers & sandwiches, large plates (read here “entrées”) and gardens (read here “side dishes”) at both lunch and dinner.
To start things off, salads should most assuredly be at the top of your list. The chopped salad, for example, serves up assorted lettuces, applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, and slivers of red onion – all pristinely fresh and obviously cut to order. But the key to any salad, of course, is the dressing… And, in this case, a splash of a superb herb-parmesan is the culinary catalyst that takes what could be just another so-so tangle of greenery and propels it into orbit. The dressing is judiciously applied, caressing rather than drowning the objects of its affections. It is assertive without being obtrusive, seducing rather than assaulting the palate.
The Mediterranean salad also has a great deal to offer. The field greens are festooned with chopped tomatoes (particularly ripe and flavorful for this season of the year), cured olives, roasted pine nuts, and crumbles of feta cheese, which are quite generous in their apportionment. Once again, however, it is the dressing that carries the day. In this case, a superlative white balsamic vinaigrette.
The Prince Edward Island mussels also make a marvelous starter. The “Revolutionary” mussels come swimming in a spicy marinara sauce, while the “Traditional” bivalves, which my wife prefers, arrive in a broth of white wine and garlic sprinkled with parsley, red pepper flakes, hint of sesame ginger, and crown of fries. This latter presentation offers diners a broth that is nicely seasoned, decidedly flavorful, and not the least bit “funky,” the occasional Achilles’ heel of white wine based shellfish concoctions. The bivalves themselves are plump, succulent, and at the very peak of good health.
If you wish to be more adventurous, there are several interesting possibilities. “Cheesy Devils on Horseback,” for example, are Medjool dates stuffed with gorgonzola cheese & wrapped in bacon; and the “Deviled Eggs” beguile with the infusion of Ducktrap smoked trout to the yolks for an unusual but outstanding flavor dimension.
Then, of course, there is the “Melted Cambozola in Cast Iron.” Cambozola is a combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola cheeses. Even the name is a portmanteau: the combination of two or more words and their definitions into one new word. Cambozola is considerably milder than Gorgonzola and features a smooth, creamy texture with a subdued blue flavor. Cambozola isn’t particularly highly thought of among connoisseurs, disdainfully considered the cheesy equivalent of White Zinfandel – a marketing coup but a lousy cheese. Undoubtedly true… but here, melted atop a casserole of caramelized onions and mushrooms with crisp triangles of herb-enhanced flatbread readily available for slathering, its creamy, earthy countenance works quite well.
As you move on to what would be considered main courses, the kitchen remains pretty much on track. Among the pastas, the Cajun macaroni & cheese is a definite winner. Cavatappi, macaroni formed into a curly, swirly, spiral tube shape, is baked in rich cheddar cheese and embellished with chicken, andouille sausage, and bits of applewood smoked bacon. The chicken morsels are perfectly moist, the sausage alive with just enough heat and seasonings to keep your taste buds standing at attention. This is a relatively straightforward presentation, but one that is alive with extremely well-integrated flavors.
The Victory beer-battered fish and chips is another deceptively simple dish that is easily mucked up. Here, however, all goes well, as the Atlantic cod is pristinely fresh, and the batter light and crisp. Continuing in the piscatorial vein, the salmon, a house specialty carried over from the old Winberie’s menu, also acquits itself with suitable distinction. Roasted on a cedar plank, the filet was cooked through rather than translucent at the center, precisely as ordered, yet still remained moist and flaky. Finishing touches included an excellent white wine butter sauce and sprinkling of thyme.
The all-American burger theme has a number of interesting nuances, including: the veal burger, ground veal, fried provolone, marinara, peppers & onions; Southwest chicken burger with chipotle aioli, fried corn chips, salsa verde, pickled jalapeño, shredded lettuce, and American cheese; and the black bean vegetarian burger headlining house-made black beans, roasted vegetables, Portobello, pepper jack, and chipotle mayo. And among the sandwiches, the Philly roast pork hoagie with sautéed broccolini, aged provolone, and au jus is hard to beat.
Desserts present options like campfire “S’mores, chocolate ganche smear, Kentucky bourbon caramel panna cotta, and a decadent toll house pie topped with ice cream and chocolate fudge. The pick of the litter, however, is undoubtedly the hand-dipped ricotta cheese. The cheese is whipped into a smooth-as-silk consistency, drizzled with honey-amaretto, sprinkled with salted almonds, and crowned with pizzelle. .. As eye-catching as it is delicious.
There is no question that the cuisine at the Black Powder Tavern is head & shoulders above that of the old Winberie’s. The restaurant also boasts an intriguing assortment of vintage cocktails, a slew of premium brews on tap, and a passable wine list. Great spot for a casual, moderately-priced chow-down.
But just be advised… as noted above, the noise level can be formidable, and a variety of young children both seen and heard… Your best bet for a (relatively) peaceful dining experience, in my opinion, is dinner early in the week or a late lunch.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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