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The Oak Tavern
3089 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45209 (513) 321-6258
I write many pub articles, usually for our “Just Opened” section. After decades of experience both in front of and behind the bar I can easily identify what’s right and what’s wrong with a pub. Most pubs are so-so and do so-so business. That’s why so many are revolving in a never ending loop of changing hands, closing and re-opening. Now and then I stumble upon a place worth writing about that doesn’t fit our “Just Opened” category, yet is new to me. That’s what happened when I went to see Kevin Fox at The Oak.
Oakley’s The Oak Tavern is five years old. I don’t know how it ran out of the gate, but it’s in fine stride today. Inside, it’s casual and looks much older than five years. Old signs and neon litter the walls. High top tables center around the tiny corner stage. A railing keeps the crowd in front of the bar corralled off the kitchen doorways. Exit out the side door onto a smoking patio complete with a big fire going. None of that is special, but it’s not the room that makes a great pub great... It’s the staff.
For instance, the bartender who was straight swamped caught my look from 20 feet away, read my lips and fished me out a menu quickly instead of making me wait my turn. Passing it back over several heads in line, customers handing it along. No gruff because the kitchen closed shortly was inferred by her nor anyone else. Head Honcho in the kitchen “Jay” came out to the railing when he saw me studying it. I asked questions and he explained my options with honest enthusiasm. “Try the Big Mike burger... cheddar, bacon, onion rings, BBQ sauce... it’s good man.” He said while his hands were making a stacking motion. Burgers are great but I’m locked into a multi-month Burger Battle already. Then I saw fish tacos! Hmmm? I just had crap tacos, these could be the real deal... I needed a pointer. “What is the place famous for”... “Wings” Jay said. Damn, wings wings wings every pub has wings what’s the big deal. I need something special. I resumed studying as he continued his explanation. “We slow smoke them over mesquite, then grill them, they’re good man, you’ll like them, seriously.” He had me at slow smoked.
I went with the Tobasco Jack sauce as it’s an in house creation. As you can see from the pic the wings looked stellar. Deeply smoked, crisped edges from the grill and an aroma that gave my taste buds goose bumps. Inside they were rib-like juicy and pulled clean off the bone like ribs too. The Tobasco Jack sauce was like Tobasco spiced melted butter. It coated the wings with the perfect ratio of spicy and savory without masking the smoked/grilled nuances. Damn fine wings. These guys use smoker magic to turn chicken wings into chicken ribs.
I appreciated how the crew welcomed me to hang in the back and enjoy my wings away from the crushing crowd. They explained the food & recipes with enthusiasm. It’s nice to see behind the scenes and I took note of how clean and organized the kitchen was. The pros in the kitchen are serious about their food. All the while, keeping a laid back and genuinely accommodating attitude. They posses skills that could support a big dollar ribs joint kitchen. Hats off to the crew.
A kitchen crew that enjoys turning out high caliber grub, a calm, in control, capable & friendly pro staff, fair prices plus the easy going ambiance are all reasons why I like The Oak Tavern. The true treat-you-like-a-regular service and the welcome the whole staff offers, plus the 1st class food, are reasons why I love The Oak. In hindsight, I’m getting curious about that burger Jay was so excited about (and those tacos too). Another trip on CV’s credit card will be required.