12087 Perry Highway, Wexford. 724-934-2110
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza $5-11; entrees $10-19
Liquor: Full bar
Tavern. The word evokes old stone inns at country crossroads, serving hearty fare and ale to travelers before a roaring fire.
Nowadays, of course, a tavern -- like a Thai restaurant, a bakery or any other specialized purveyor of comestibles -- is as likely to be found in a suburban strip mall. And while the ale is still on tap, the fare tends toward the new-fangled, and the fire is conspicuously absent.
So it was that we traveled to Wexford to sate our appetites at Blue Water Tavern. Needless to say, there's no blue water in sight, just the proverbial sea of black asphalt. But the interior makes some cozy spaces out of a peculiarly-shaped strip-mall slot. The dining room, separated by a wall from the sweet little bar, was a territory in contest between wainscoting and a sophisticated paint job, on the one hand, and two big TVs -- the flickering flame of our modern age -- offering themselves as substitutes for dining companionship and conversation, on the other.
The menu looked promising, though; it was easy to pick a generous tableful of mostly distinctive-sounding dishes. Wings are obligatory at any self-respecting tavern these days, but we were intrigued and excited that Blue Water's house style was "Indian spices." Or at least, we were until they arrived. The only source of intrigue after that was what the spices actually were. Small and not very meaty, the wings were coated with a spice rub that didn't evoke Indian flavors at all: not curry, not garam masala, not even cumin. Whatever the spice blend was, it was not very distinctive.
Tuna rolls, filled with chunks of rare Ahi tuna packed into an eggroll wrapper with Asian slaw, flash-fried and drizzled with wasabi, were apparently meant to evoke both sushi and the ubiquitous seared tuna appetizer. But their thick wrappers were chewy, not crisp, the tuna was watery and dull, and the wasabi seemed applied for visual effect rather than balanced flavor, overwhelming what other tastes were present.
We've been spoiled by the spread of good pizza even in establishments without Italian credentials. As such, it was hard to enjoy Blue Water's mediocre pie. The cheese and sauce were serviceable, but the crust was bland and soft, with neither chew nor crisp.
Things took a turn for the better with the delivery of our entrees. Jason's grilled meatloaf was particularly impressive. It's a platitude that size doesn't matter, but we'll admit that the thick slab of meatloaf piled atop garlic mashed red-skin potatoes and a Texas-sized piece of toast made quite an impression.
The meatloaf was a challenge to eat, being taller than the fork was long, but for all its imposing stature, it was actually quite tasty. The above-average piece of meatloaf had been grilled to add a bit of crust and flavor, and a thin glaze of barbecue gravy did an effective job of adding top notes of sugar and vinegar without drowning the dish in sticky sweetness. The assertive garlic made the potato layer a meaningful contributor, and, while the bread would have done its job at half the height, Jason enjoyed the mild crunch it added to the stack.
Angelique's chicken parmesan was almost as daunting, portion-wise, but also satisfying enough that we welcomed the prospect of leftovers. We're not sure what kind of a chicken has a breast this big, and we're almost afraid to ask. But there it was, reposing imperiously atop a veritable mountain of fettuccine Alfredo. Two things, other than sheer size, set this dish apart: One was the stout, toasty-brown, crunchy breading on the chicken, serving to armor it against the soggifying effects of pasta sauce; and the other was the sauce itself -- or rather the sauces. In addition to the creamy Alfredo coating the noodles, there was a layer of marinara sauce at the bottom of the bowl. When the two sauces blended, the effect was a salutary one of tomatoes and cream.
The disappointment of the night was the Wexford Chop salad, a house concoction whose ingredients had sounded so enticing: mixed greens tossed with grilled chicken, prosciutto, caramelized onions, gouda cheese and diced asparagus, dressed with Dijon vinaigrette and finished with fried onions. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry, the onions neither caramelized nor fried but merely limply sautéed, the cheese sparse and the prosciutto entirely absent.
Well, we consoled ourselves that at least we'd have those leftovers from our entrees ... until the flimsy bag they'd been packed in broke under the food's prodigious weight, spilling its contents over the aforementioned sea of asphalt as we carried it out to the car. It was enough to make us head right back in for another beer -- almost.