Tickle’s is a well-known destination for gifts, jewelry, accessories and apparel. Owners Lynn and Jack Tickle stock their shelves with popular brands like Lilly Pulitzer and Vera Bradley, and the in-house Tea Room provides a place for shoppers to refuel with light fare and desserts. According to Lynn, “the Tea Room has always served lunch and has been a very important part of the social experience of coming to Tickle’s. Because of the Tea Room’s popularity, we have often thought about expanding it, which is how this project started.”
“This project” was the purchase of neighboring land and the construction of a beautiful new building that houses The Aviary restaurant. Nine large carriage house doors grace the architecture and initially inspired the name “The Carriage House.” However, another architectural feature ultimately won influence: “As construction got underway, the vaulted ceiling was being constructed but the doors were not installed yet. The birds were taking advantage by building nests in the rafters. It reminded me of the aviary at the San Diego Zoo, and so the name was born.”
Despite Tickle’s success, Lynn points out that embarking on this new initiative required special help. Other than operating The Tea Room, they had not been involved in any other restaurant endeavors. That’s why it was crucial that they recruited an amazing team to manage The Aviary.
The atmosphere is conducive to both a casual night at the bar or a special occasion, and the menu has a good mix of staples and surprises. We began our dinner with a broad round of appetizers. From the “staples” side of things, we tried Crab Cakes ($12) accompanied by spicy remoulade and cucumber and avocado salad, and Truffle Fries ($6) seasoned with truffle salt, pepper and parsley. The two crab cakes were small but filled with sweet, tasty lumps of crab and little filler. The fries were delicious, but as shoestring fries, they required a little extra effort to eat. For the “surprise,” we ordered Fried Gnocchi ($8), which none of us had ever tried before. The lightly fried gnocchi lay in a sauce of smoked bacon, sage, brown butter and manchego cheese.
For entrees, we bypassed the burgers, sandwiches and grilled pizzas and headed for the heartier fare. The Pan Seared Diver Scallops ($24) with mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and candied lemon were a hit. The scallops were cooked perfectly with a light brown crust on the outside and a juicy inside, and the lemon added zest without overpowering the dish. The Aviary Baked Pasta ($20) was a heaping baked gratin of pasta with tomatoes, cream, manchego, gruyere, mozzarella, ricotta, fontal and fresh parsley. It’s the sort of dish that’s even better the next day, if it can last that long (this one didn’t).
Carnivores will have a dilemma. Our waitress suggested Pressed Hen or Pan Seared Duck Breast since they are not common dishes in these parts, and I also considered the Linguini and Clams solely because I was curious how pork belly made its way onto the ingredients list. Sometimes if you can’t decide what to pick it’s easiest to not pick any, so I went with the Salt and Pepper Rib Eye Steak ($30). It worked out well – the seared steak seasoned with black lava salt and black peppercorns was as flavorful a steak as I’ve had outside a bona fide steakhouse. The mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus sides did not stand out as they usually do at said bona fide steakhouses, but the red meat alone was worth the splurge.
With spring upon us, Lynn has high hopes for the burgeoning campus: “In the spring we will be expanding our patios and gardens to offer beautiful outdoor dining and offer options for private events. Our goal for The Aviary and Tickle’s is to create an experience. It’s more than just shopping or dining. Combined, they create a destination. A great day or night out.” So far, patrons agree – on Yelp, The Aviary is currently ranked #1 in Swansea.
2219 Grand Army of the Republic Highway