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Basic bar food is your best bet at The Tavern at Triangle Park.

No Pretense

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A grandiose name like might be associated with a charming Colonial public house situated amongst idyllic manicured gardens. Nice though that image is, it has nothing to do with the actual Tavern at Triangle Park, an ordinary place in a small West End strip mall. It's a casual neighborhood spot with no particular theme — a characteristic I found refreshing in this climate of obsessive marketing. But the Tavern, which celebrates its 10th year of business this month, must be doing something right. On the weekday evening we visited, it was filled with people who looked like they had just spent the last 30 minutes staring blankly into their refrigerators only to conclude that they lacked the groceries or inspiration to wrangle up a meal in their own kitchens — family folk out for a meal.

If the staff at the Tavern lacked a certain professionalism, they made up for it with pleasant demeanors. As we stood just inside the door along with three or four other parties waiting to be helped, three members of the staff descended upon us. One efficient server announced eagerly that she would take names for a list, another cheerily invited us to sit anywhere we liked, and a third announced gravely that it would be at least a 20-minute wait. It was a moment of genuine confusion. When the dust settled, we opted to sit in the rather pleasant enclosed deck area, which had the added appeal of being smoke-free, television-free and a tad quieter than the rest of the place.

[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)The Tavern's menu, like its décor, is eminently familiar but also without a theme, which is not a criticism. Themes, after all, can be confining. The appetizer selection includes onion rings, bruschetta and hummus. There are big salads, burgers and sandwiches, and entrees such as Chicken Provencal, crab cakes and vegetable stir-fries. Appetizers are in the $5 to $6 range. Salads and sandwiches hover in the $6 to $8 range, while entrées, which run the gamut from $9 to $19, are mostly around $11.

For starters, we sampled a miniature wheel of baked brie ($6.50) warmed and drenched in a thin "raspberry melba sauce" that was something like a syrupy jelly of questionable quality. I've always guessed that the notion of baking brie was developed to improve upon the unfortunate fact that our brie is seldom properly ripened. The fruit spread idea, on the other hand, seldom improves upon the end product, and, indeed, this particular sweet, sticky, red substance most assuredly detracted. Then, wishing very badly that we had ordered something more akin to onion rings, we reached for our next selection — "Tavern Bruschetta Pomodoro" ($5.50). Three exceedingly soggy pieces of inferior "French" bread were topped with mediocre chopped tomatoes, tasteless black olives and a touch of melted Parmesan. Our neighbor's nachos were looking pretty good.

The entrées, or at least one of them, proved a little better. A black bean quesadilla ($9.50) was a simple but welcome change of pace. This folded flour tortilla was grilled without being greasy, and filled with melted cheese and a nicely seasoned black-bean puree. The white rice accompaniment was a tad dreary, but it was nice enough little meal. "Crawfish Etoufée" ($10.95) on the other hand, looked right but tasted wrong. Shocked by my first mouthful, I considered this dish carefully. It looked like the real thing. It had the "holy trinity" of Cajun cuisine — green peppers, onions and celery. It had a (slightly) browned roux. The crawfish were plentiful and as good as one might expect for being so far from crawfish country. So why did it taste so wrong? First, it had an overpowering white-wine flavor; second, it was drastically underseasoned, lacking the punch and complexity of the spices one expects in Cajun fare, and finally, the roux was too blond to impart the rich nutty flavor that I prefer in etoufée.

Dessert at The Tavern at Triangle Park is painfully familiar. Oreo brownie sundaes, chocolate pecan pies, carrot cake, you know the drill. A chocolate chip Kahlua-Bailey's cheesecake was very rich and actually pretty good, while a lemon-lime pie tasted artificial and lacked consistency.

Next time I'm getting onion rings, a cheesesteak and ice cream. I bet that's what everyone else was

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