Tempe has no shortage of great eateries in a small radius. I often envy the myriad dining choices of the college masses. So when a newcomer hits the scene there are big expectations to be met – great food and ambiance to match are a MUST.
Varsity Tavern nails it on all points.
Helmed in the kitchen by executive chef Albert Hernandez with the expertise of of famed chef Robert McGrath serving as operating consultant, the food is bound to be explosive – and it is.
The menu is diverse and familiar, the kitchen takes comfort classics and elevates them into something truly special.
The Pot Roast Sliders are bomb — melt-in-your mouth beef with grilled onions in a savory jus, and American cheese on a brioche bun slathered with what they aptly call Atomic horseradish. These sliders come four to an order and can be found on the appetizer menu, they are served with a heaping mound of fries making them a perfect main course!
And speaking of those fries, they are perfectly crispy and well seasoned. I loved them the most in the Tejas Poo-Teen. I adore poutine, but one of its biggest downfalls is how sloppy and soggy it gets if you don’t eat it fast enough. Varsity Tavern has solved this dilemma by serving the gravy on the side. Which is a spectacular thing to do, because the gravy is SPECTACULAR. They call it Peppery Texas Pan Gravy – but I just call it ammmazing! It’s a creamy white gravy with a subtle heat and a ton of sausage. It is so tasty and worthy of being a dish on it’s own. I’m holding out hope they serve it up in a bowl and call it sausage soup; but until that happens, I advise you just order an extra side for your poutine.
The Cheez-It Chicken Tenders are also found on the appetizer side of the menu. You read that right people, CHEEZ-IT CHICKEN TENDERS, as in tender chicken coated in crushed Cheez-Its and FRIED! They are every bit as delicious as you want them to be. The chicken is juicy and the coating is salty and crispy. It comes as a generous portion, perfect for sharing — but you won’t want to. If you’re dining with kids this unexpected twist on chicken tenders is sure to please the young, old and everyone in between.
Speaking of unexpected when was the last time you have seen Tamale Pie on a menu? My guess is you have never seen Tamale Pie on a menu. Talk about retro, I remember my mom making tamale pie when I was little. But Varsity Tavern’s Tamale Pie is like no other I have ever had, they have managed to take a staple from my childhood and turn it into something with a little more sophisticated than what I remember. Savory, slightly spicy picadillo beef with tomatoes, cheddar cheese and roasted corn, topped with a grilled corn cake and smothered with more picadillo beef, sour cream and cilantro. It’s hearty and so filling and I can guarantee you will have leftovers.
Save room for dessert because the options at Varsity Tavern are worth the sweet indulgence. I opted for two – the Banana Bread Pudding and the Gooey Half-Baked Cookie, both have their own decadent merits. The banana bread pudding had a sweetly spiced soft interior with a crunchy baked exterior, topped with ice cream and absolutely satisfying. You can never go wrong with a soft-baked cookie, rich with chocolate chips and topped with you ice cream and chocolate syrup — a crowd pleaser for sure.
The space easily transforms from casual restaurant by day to hip hotspot by night, giving the local student population, tourists and locals a comfortable place to eat and play!
Even the location of Varsity Tavern is familiar, occupying the space that housed Hooters for decades, this hip new place beckons with warmth, charm and incredible takes on classic home-cooking.
Varsity Tavern is located at 501 S Mill Ave. Tempe, AZ 85281
Disclaimer: I enjoyed a meal at Varsity Tavern free of charge to help facilitate this post. As usual all opinions are entirely my own.