"There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern." Samuel JohnsonOnce a year, I make a list of all the burgers I've had over the last 12 months. I'm near the half-way point on it now, taking copious notes for the big round-up.
But it's worth mentioning here and now that a noteworthy new player is on the scene.
I'm talking about The Tavern, a little burger and cocktail joint across from Riegrovy Sady on the border of Vinohrady and Žižkov.
As of now, they are only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening. They've had limited hours because the perfectionist owners, Dean Selby and Lori Wyant, want to make sure everything is just right.
They've been methodically building out the kitchen, testing recipes and suppliers, and getting staff in place. It's been a slow process. The restaurant has been open since the start of 2012, but it is still not clear when full-time operations will commence.
The couple was the force behind the popular LokalBurger, a traveling food stand that popped up anywhere from a farmer's market to a cocktail bar. I enjoyed their product when I tried it in Bukowski's last year.
Since I'd already had the LokalBurger, I decided to try their LB Tower of Power. It's a LokalBurger with two patties instead of one.
The grass-fed, free-range beef is top quality, with a fine flavor brought up by just the right amount of salt.
On top there is lettuce, tomato, melted Gouda, and their "special sauce," which is a ketchup-mayo mixture. It reminded me of California's legendary In-N-Out Burger, which I had last September, only bigger and better. Seriously.
I thirsted for a cocktail to wash down this mighty beast. I ordered the Bourbon Sourball.
This was a weighty meal already. And yet I ordered another round of food -- the Blue Smoke Burger.
Wow. I mean, wow.
I'm not a big blue cheese on a burger guy, but I loved it. The smoky, juicy 115 gram patty was something special. Maybe there was a tad too much onion and mayo. It was sloppy to eat and you will need extra napkins, but it was a rich, glorious mess.
I had only planned to eat part of it, thinking I wouldn't have room for it all. I really didn't, but I ate it all. It was that good.
I returned after I heard they added a bacon cheeseburger to the menu (185 CZK). This one included English cheddar, pancetta, ketchup, mustard, mayo, pickles and onion.
I'd give minor demerits for putting the cold toppings on the bottom and too many sauces. But if you are looking for perfection, you'll never find true love.
They were still experimenting with the fries on this visit. I had a mix of their curly fries, cross-cut fries, and regular fries. The first two were crispy, crunchy delights the likes of which I've rarely seen in this city.
The regular fries were not so crisp and didn't thrill me. I was told they were changing to a different style of fries.
I also tried their "Tav Sauce" (20 CZK), which is mix of mayo, barbecue sauce and garlic powder. It didn't sound too exciting, but when I tasted it, I was surprised how much I liked its smoky flavor.
I sampled the Tavern Wench cocktail (110 CZK). It's Absolut Vanilla, Kahlua and cream.
On my next visit, I went for the pulled pork sandwich. This was amazing.
This is one of the few places in this country that you can taste a real American version of such smoky tender greatness. The pork just melts in your mouth. I enjoyed this pulled pork much more than the version served at the Hard Rock Cafe.
My only critique here is I think they put too much coleslaw on the pork. For me, it distracted from the beautiful porcine flavor. Even if it goes against American barbecue tradition, I'm getting the slaw on the side next time.
I had a beer to go with this. They serve Ježek (36 CZK/.5 liter).
I followed that with a margarita.
On my final visit, I had a hard time. I badly wanted to order one of the burgers mentioned above. Instead, for the sake of the vegetarians out there, I ordered the Urban Garden Burger (125 CZK).
I was shocked. I liked it. I'd even say it was the best vegetarian burger I've ever had (although, to be honest, I've probably had three in my life).
The patty had serious heft and a meaty texture. Sure, it's mashed beans, but the important thing is it tasted good. I detected a slight crunch and was told there are also hazelnuts in there.
I enjoyed their sweet, fried onions, and it made for a substantial meal. Again, there was a little too much mayo for me, but my enjoyment was undiminished.
The last cocktail I tried was the Cranberry Brusinka Zinger (115 CZK).
I'd never met the owner, Lori, who works the bar and makes sure everyone is happy. She was super nice, friendly, and helpful. I didn't meet Dean. He was busy in the kitchen cooking. The food came out unbelievably fast and piping hot.
I believe critics can and should find something to criticize. There's always room for improvement. But I'm finding it hard to come up with any big complaints.
Maybe the cocktails were a little sweet for my taste, and they went a little heavy on the condiments. That's all I got on the downside.
On the upside, I can give you my highest recommendation. The Tavern is run by Americans doing perhaps the best burgers and pulled pork you'll find in this city.
As of now, they don't have a phone number and accept reservations via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You will need to book. With very little publicity, the place is perpetually packed on the evenings they are open.
I think that will continue. The Tavern is producing a lot of happiness.