- Derek Carlisle
They began with two grand pianos. Now, the team behind The Tavernacle has taken their play-on-words one step further by launching The Steyk Center (207 E. 300 South, 801-519-8900).
Owners Troy Baldwin and Scott Alexander opened the gastropub satellite last summer and it's shaping up to be the ideal complement to Tavernacle's good vibes and dancing ebonies and ivories.
My first experience with the kitchen at The Steyk Center was during the Quorum of the Queens inaugural Drag Brunch, an event that seemed to herald a new era for the Tavernacle team. In addition to some primo performances from a bevy of local drag queens, the kitchen was up and running with burgers, funeral potato scrambles and French toast. The food made enough of an impression that I wanted to check it out during regular business hours.
As fans of The Tavernacle developed their relationship with the piano bar for its more nocturnal aspects—slightly buzzed patrons yelling out requests for their favorite pop song while two frenetic pianists attempt to outdo one another—visiting the adjoining space in the light of day is obviously a different experience. It's not a bad one by any stretch. In fact, a daytime visit makes you appreciate the work that has gone into building the place over the years. Those who prefer to visit on weekends or evenings, however, now can order a plate of onion rings, fries or even funeral potatoes along with some late-night entertainment.
The menu consists of basic pub food—burgers, tacos and some well-curated starters—but there is a lot of love in these dishes. I've seen other nightspots ignite their grills only to serve up blackened, loveless imitations of pub food in an attempt to get more money out of their patrons. The Steyk Center serves up food that has as much pulse and attitude as its roster of pianists. The Ike and Tina ($10, pictured), for example, is a stacked variation of a bleu bacon burger. Any burger aficionado worth their ground chuck has had this recipe before, and balance isn't typically a word you use when discussing the use of bleu cheese. More often than not, the bleu bacon burger is overpoweringly bleu, which is a shame. The Ike and Tina gets the pungent cheese distribution just right—creamy, slightly funky and just enough to complement the stack of bacon, fried onions and teriyaki drizzle that share the same brioche roof.
And such a brioche! As of late, I've been paying more attention to the role a burger's bun plays in the whole affair. It's symptomatic of getting older—I'm less concerned with what's happening at the party than I am with who's going to pay for the damn thing. The burger buns here are exactly what you want in your pub burger's corner. The springy brioche doesn't flinch when you try to pinch all that burger-y goodness together, and the toasted contact layer makes sure the meat juices and sauces don't consume and disintegrate these fragile barriers.
As burgers go, I have to praise the Ike and Tina for its balance and depth. When you're craving a pub burger, this one doesn't disappoint. However, if you like your burgers easy on the funk but heavy on the heat, the Baptism of Fire ($9) will be sure to knock your socks off. It's a brioche wonderbun topped with chipotle aioli, fried jalapeños and pepper jack cheese. Those looking for something in the middle will be happy with the Tav Burger ($9), bedecked with caramelized onions and melted cheddar cheese.
Even if you'd prefer to check out their late-night street tacos ($3) or any of their sides, no visit to The Steyk Center is complete without a few skewered Steyk Sticks ($3). Not only are they named after the place, but there's nothing on the menu that can't be brightened up by a few skewers of marinated steak. They come on a lush bed of arugula and are served with a bit of chimichurri sauce. If you're after some snackable pub grub that'll stick to your bones, look no further.
Despite the fact that this expansion hasn't been an easy one for Baldwin and Alexander, they've got a good thing going with The Steyk Center. Adding some bodacious pub food to their established dueling piano bar in tandem with a hugely popular drag brunch is a sign of progress. Tasty, tasty progress.