Restaurants come and go but there are few that have resilience. In Phoenix, Tom’s Tavern is one of the few. Since 1929, Tom’s Tavern has been a downtown mainstay. In fact, it could probably be a Phoenix landmark. Tom Higley established the restaurant by converting the old City Morgue and old pipe shop into a burger joint and gin mill. Historically, Tom’s Tavern’s reputation was not necessarily for dinner. The restaurant had a small door leading into a darkened, smoke filled room, smelling of bourbon, pool cue chalk and stale cigarettes. Unfortunately, the original location on Adams Street did not survive the growth of downtown Phoenix. Therefore, that location was torn down in 1977. And then, Tom’s Tavern was revived at One Renaissance Square in 1988. Regardless of the change, Tom’s has lived on at their current location for the past 28 years.
Under New Management
Executive chef Jim Gallen acquired ownership of Tom’s Tavern in the last few years. Gallen comes from a long history (30 years!) of working in hospitality. Of note, he has worked alongside local restaurant icon Chef Mark Tarbell. For 14 years Gallen oversaw Tarbell’s Restaurant. In addition, he directed food and beverage at the Biltmore Golf Club. With his expertise Gallen’s goal is to preserve Tom’s Tavern’s history while creating a new legacy of exceptional food and wine service. Over time, the restaurant has hosted many politicians and celebrities alike. Moreover, Chef Gallen noted that Tom’s is notorious in downtown as a lunchtime and after-work hotspot. But Gallen is ready to take on the evening challenge. Thus, Gallen has extended business into the dinner hours as well.
A Diversified Menu
With the expansion to a 200-seat bar and dining room, Tom’s menu has expanded as well. Chef Gallen commits to using Arizona farms and ranches that use sustainable methods of production, or grow organic produce, and marketers who sell locally produced food products. Additionally, he has started a full wine program and is driven to use his background as a sommelier to create classic wine pairings.
I had the pleasure of attending a recent event where Gallen lead us through five delicious courses. Allow me to recapture the experience:
- Amuse bouche: asparagus & potato tart, organic greens, bacon, mustard vinaigrette and locally grown Campari tomatoes, fresh-pulled mozzarella (impressively made in house), micro arugula, olive oil & balsamic drizzle.
- Pairing: The Frenchie sparking cocktail (green chartreuse, Courvossier, champagne, lemon juice)
- First course: buttermilk fried oyster, celery root puree, bacon jam.
- Pairing: 2013 Hugel Riesling, Alsace
- Second course: bibb lettuce salad, Danish Bleu cheese, candied pecans, dried cranberries, lemon-olive oil vinaigrette.
- Pairing: 2014 Lioco Chardonnay, Sonoma County
- Third course: slow cooked pork belly, white cheddar polenta, roasted asparagus, cherry gastrique.
- Pairing: 2013 Row Eleven Pinot Noir, Russian River
- Entrée: BBQ salmon, sweet corn hoecake, McClendon Select greens, watermelon three-ways (fresh, pickled, vinaigrette), fried leeks.
- Pairing: 2014 Simple Life Pinot Noir, California
- Dessert: Seckel pear crostata, dried currant, cardamom caramel sauce, vanilla gelato.
- Pairing: 2002 Château Nairac, Barsac
Dinner is Served
For the first time in recent history, Tom’s Tavern has expanded their hours with dinner now Monday through Friday 5PM-8PM and Saturday 5PM-9PM. Of course, lunch is still Monday through Friday 10:30AM-5PM. The newly renovated space offers the elegance of a contemporary dining space that complements the vintage look of classic American tavern. As a native Phoenician, there was something special knowing that I was having dinner in an establishment that has grown with the city I am proud to call home. I hope others will take the opportunity to experience the same.
For more information about Tom’s Tavern, please visit their website: http://www.tomstavernaz.com