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Dining with Draz: Victory Park Tavern

By Lori Draz

Rumson was on our radar this month, so we set off the try Victory Park Tavern, and it was a trip worth making. Victory Park Tavern is the latest creation of Chef Peter O’Connell, well-known to many diners of Woody’s and Whispers in Spring Lake. He has capitalized on the familiar, elevating this well-loved spot with his fine cuisine, while keeping that established community vibe. 

There is a cheery energy, thanks to the smiling staff who seem happy to be a part of your evening. The big, wooden bar is a popular spot, offering a nice cocktail and beer selection. The menu is not full of exotic offerings, but each of the classics are well-done, ensuring a delicious dinner. 

We began our meal with the Tuna Tower, a colorful combination of sushi-grade tuna tartare and avocado with a zingy citrus-zest gastrique and waffle chips on the side. The crisp, clean flavor is bright as a summer sunrise. We also had the Eggplant Meatballs in a spicy heirloom tomato sauce with shaved asiago cheese. These are really meaty meatballs, even though they are eggplant. The light sauce is a perfect complement. Our group was split right down the line on our favorite, so if you like a little twang, take the tuna; if you like homemade taste, pick the meatballs. We also had Crispy Calamari which is a lovely pale color thanks to the rice flour coating. It’s rings only, no squigglers. 

Now for the entrées. Diner one selected Chicken Under a Brick. The grilled and crispy Frenched chicken breast in lemon-herb butter comes with Brussels sprouts and sweet potato wedges. She enjoyed the moist chicken with its nice crispy skin and said the vegetables were nicely done too, tender without being mushy. This is a good pick for petite eaters, so if you have a big appetite, you might want to choose a heftier selection, like diner two did. 

They went American with the big 10 oz. Tavern Burger. She loved the special house beef blend of ground kobe and brisket. This whopper comes topped with cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon, Russian dressing, pickles and romaine on a toasted English muffin with a generous portion of sea-salt fries. Pickle people will note her endorsement of the puckering pleaser too. I’ll bet they serve a ton of these burgers, especially at the bar. 

I had the Beef Short Rib Special that came with sautéed spinach and grilled garden vegetables. The mashed potatoes were adorned with purple, orange and white carrots. Now I was going to order a different item when the special arrived at the table to my right. Within minutes, two more were delivered to the table to my left. The aroma was so intoxicating, I changed my order, and I was so glad I did. The big hunk of fork-tender beef was bathed in a shiny marsala demi-glaze. Before long, I saw many more being delivered to other tables. It was so flavorful and based on its popularity that night, I’m sure this will be a frequent special. If you can order it, do. It was satisfying, and each component was perfectly cooked. 

We ended our meal with the Bourbon Bread Pudding with honey crisp apples, raisins and caramel ice cream. This was so yummy we didn’t leave a crumb. The sugary syrup coated each bite and made the edges a buttery crunchy bite worth flipping a coin for. Add that caramel ice cream, and it is winner! Our second was a big, warm Brownie Sundae with ice cream, fresh raspberries, raspberry and chocolate sauce and whipped cream. You know that had to be good! The desserts are really worth saving room for, so be sure to give one a try. 

Victory Park Tavern feels like it has been there for years. It’s got a neighborhood feel – the kind of place people stop in after work or a game and equally nice enough for a more special dinner date.  Victory Park Tavern is well-lit with oak beams, brick accents and a big bar. It has street parking and is handicap accessible. 

Cost – Low to moderate 

What we liked- The easy vibe and friendly and attentive staff, the busy bar, the careful plating and tablewear and tablecloths, the great take-out. 

We give it 4 and three quarter Js 

Victory Park Tavern is located at 21 West River Rd. in Rumson. 732-842-6205. It is open Wednesday and Thursday 4:30 to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 4:30 to 9:30 pm and Sunday 4 to 8 pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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