High hopes for Buckhorn Tavern

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Ribs at Buckhorn Tavern; photo: Paula Johnson

Buckhorn Tavern is one of those places that always gets mentioned when people talk about restaurants that have been on the dining scene here since forever. Actually, since 1943 as Buckhorn’s website proudly proclaims. Looking around the thematic dining area, with its low lighting, wood paneling, and rustic décor, it’s probably a safe bet that it looks pretty much the same as it did back in the day. The cozy hunting lodge theme is highlighted with deer antler chandeliers and artwork depicting hunting and wildlife.

It’s also one of those places that is mentioned as a place to go for reasonably priced steaks and prime rib. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I, along with Wiley Banker Tom, paid a visit recently to this local favorite to sample some of what it’s known for. Namely, an affordable, traditional home-style menu featuring items such BBQ, burgers, fish, and seafood dishes, as well as the steaks and prime rib. There’s no doubt about this restaurant’s popularity. We arrived to find a packed parking lot. “Are those tour busses?” PIP asked, as we looked for a space. Indeed they were, and, as we soon discovered, the folks who arrived in them were packing the dining room.

Most of the tables in the main dining room’s center had been pulled together in long rows to accommodate the large tour group, but we were able to score a comfortable booth along a wall. (There is also ample seating available in the bar area.) The size of the group was obviously putting a strain on the serving staff, but our server Philip was able to greet us immediately and did an admirable job throughout the evening in paying us ample attention. Fortunately, we were in no rush, so the slower than normal pace of things was just fine.

Stick to your ribs

We began with drinks and appetizers while we looked at the rest of the menu. Appetizers range in price from $5.49 to $7.99, and feature favorites like crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, and French fried onion rings. Fried Green Tomatoes ($5.49) is always a must for me, and since ribs and BBQ are two of Buckhorn’s most highly touted items (listed on the menu as “award-winning”), the Rib Teaser ($6.99) was also mandatory. The Fried Green Tomatoes were pleasant enough, done with panko instead of flour. While the panko’s crunch was fine, I think I would have preferred a more traditional salty, peppery, flour coating. The ribs were good, the fall-off the-bone style, slathered with a sweet sauce. (The appetizer serving was a quarter slab, with entree choices featuring a larger portion paired with beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp.)

Prime Rib ($21.99 for the Buck Cut, $19.99 for the Doe Cut) was what PIP was here for. Our friend, Wiley Banker Tom, and I were intrigued by the “Home-style Favorites” portion of the menu, which features dishes like Liver and Onions, Beef Hot Shot, and Pork Chops, grilled, fried, or broasted. WBT selected a Kentucky Hot Brown ($10.99) and I tried the Cabbage Rolls with Sauerkraut ($13.99 for two, $9.99 for one). I was tickled to see deviled eggs as one of the side dish offerings, along with skillet apples, two of my favorite things, though not exactly a complementary pairing with cabbage rolls. For that, I chose mashed potatoes, perfect along with stuffed cabbage’s tomato sauce.

Too much mush

The Kentucky Hot Brown, sliced turkey, bacon, and tomato smothered in creamy Mornay sauce, was fine, but my cabbage rolls left a lot to be desired. Mushy and bland, they lacked the punch of black pepper and made me long for the tightly rolled little bundles made by the Slovak church ladies back home in Pittsburgh, where they are found at every wedding, Sunday dinner, and family gathering. I was also disappointed by the skillet apples, which I found overly sweet and mushy, as well. PIP fared far worse with his choice. His Prime Rib was so gristly as to be practically inedible. We finished with some super sweet desserts, carrot cake, peanut butter pie, and Kentucky Derby pie. PIP doesn’t usually eat dessert, but in this case was glad to, since dinner left him still hungry.

High hopes, but nope

I had hoped for more from this rustic, casual spot, based on its popularity and longevity. Places in business this long curiously are often those that seem to be shorter on better cuisine. I would say the overall quality of the cuisine that night was just fair. Were I to return, I would stick with the ribs, a sandwich, burger, or even one of the broasted items. It’s possible that PIP’s prime rib was an anomaly, but despite good friendly service and affordability, I am not sure that there was enough happening at the Buckhorn Tavern to lure us back for another shot.

Buckhorn Tavern is located at 8800 Meeker Rd. in Clayton. For more information, please visit buckhorntavern.biz or call 937.890.3261.

 

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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