Westerly needs a little more love. I know plenty of people from the Westerly area who wouldn’t bat an eye at driving “all the way” to Providence to dine out, but know very few Providence people who would make the trek south (even if they packed a lunch). Granted, there is a wide selection of excellent food around our capital city, but part of the beauty of Rhode Island is that we can experience a whole different landscape and atmosphere by taking just a 30-minute drive, and if there happens to be an excellent restaurant at the end of that drive, that’s important, because who packs a lunch anymore?
All of that is a roundabout way of saying you should be going to 84 Tavern on Canal. I had been a couple of times in the past when it was called 84 High Street and always enjoyed it, but hadn’t had the chance to visit its new location around the corner from High Street on Canal Street, hence the new name. I have had the chance to enjoy chef and owner Christopher Champagne’s cooking at several events over the last year, including at my own Eat Drink RI Festival, and really wanted to put the one-year-old 84 Tavern on Canal through its paces.
So we went to Westerly with a group, including my two children, which always ups the ante on how staff handles service. No one excels at asking for just one more thing, after a server has been back and forth to your table multiple times, like a child does. 84 Tavern is in a big, welcoming space. The bar takes up most of the first room. It almost has to, with over 20 beers on tap. It’s a great bar with a ton of room to hang out – if I worked in the area that would be a perfect after work bar.
The dining room is twice the size of the bar area and it’s very smartly laid out with partition walls to add privacy to certain areas, allowing for a good mix of small tables and larger ones, like the great round table our group sat at. I enjoy round tables for conversation; with the low wall nearby, it was almost like we were in our own private dining area.
I mentioned over 20 beers on tap – many of them local brews like Grey Sail, Revival and Cottrell. Well, there are at least another 20 bottled beers on the list at 84 Tavern, plus an extensive list of cocktail options and wine as well. The cocktail menu includes classics like a French 75 and a Pimm’s Cup along with a dozen modern creations too. The wine list isn’t as long as the beer and cocktails, but it’s got some good offerings. Bottom line is, this is a well-stocked tavern for drinks.
It’s also a great place for very well executed tavern food. We kicked off dinner with Poutine ($7), because who can resist French fries loaded with cheese and gravy? We ordered the mozzarella version, which isn’t exactly traditional, but no one at our table was going to quibble. Along with the Poutine, which was pretty quickly devoured, we order the Crispy Confit Chicken Wings ($8.99) which come either Buffalo (of course) or with a Sriracha Sweet Thai Chili Glaze. We went Thai and they were delicious with just a little kick of heat at the end of a sweet bite.
To round out the appetizers we tried a cup of the Loaded Texas Chili ($3.99), which was just as the menu said, loaded with beef, beans, onions and cheese. It was nice and thick and almost a meal in itself. I also ordered the Fried Oysters ($10.99), which were spot-on perfect. Fried oysters are supposed to retain that juicy brine inside the crisp shell and these were exactly that: a tasty crunch and then the explosion of delicious oyster inside.
Dinner brought four great dishes: Maple Mustard Glazed Pork Chops, Baked Stuffed Shrimp, an 84 Burger and also a Tavern Turkey Burger. We passed things around and everyone was very happy with each dish. My favorite may have been the Baked Stuffed Shrimp ($21.99), though I’d really be hard pressed to pick one favorite. The shrimp stood out in what was an excellent dish that could be considered a restaurant cliché. But at 84 Tavern that old classic was almost brand new. The shrimp were not only fresh, but also toothsome, and they were perfectly cooked and stuffed. It was like rediscovering and old friend that you thought you’d never see again.
The Maple Mustard Glazed Pork Chops ($18.99) were also nicely prepared with a good sear on them for lots of flavor. One of the standouts on the plate was the Sweet Potato-Apple-Bacon Hash. All of us at the table couldn’t get enough of it. It was another example of great balance between sweet, salty and smoky ingredients. The two burgers couldn’t have been more different and yet both were very satisfying. The 84 Burger ($11.99) was a good size, but not one of those burgers was bigger than your head. The best comment at the table about the Tavern Turkey Burger ($11.99) was that if you weren’t told it was ground turkey you might not have realized it right away. Both burgers were excellent and well recommended.
We wrapped up dinner with some Peanut Butter Pie ($7) and the Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich ($7). The pie was very good, but the Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich is still being talked about three weeks later – and not only by the two children at the table. That was a darn good dessert.
Westerly has seen some dining growth over the last few years and 84 Tavern on Canal is one of the reasons why. The restaurant has a great selection for everyone, and if you want to see even more, they post specials daily on their Facebook page. Bottom line is, you should check out 84 Tavern on Canal, and not just if you live in southern Rhode Island. 84 Tavern on Canal 15 Canal Street, Westerly 596-7871.