I don’t care how glaring the flatscreens, how blaring the dance tracks, how backwards the baseball caps, how bleached the blonde, how Two-Buck the Chuck—if a place serves stuffed spuds & treats my mom nice, I’m in. Which brings me to, of all unlikely places, Oak Tavern—where the GM turned down the loudspeakers for a 67-year-old lady without blinking & our PYT of a server was as exceedingly polite and full of thoughtful suggestions as her hot pants were extremely hot.

I’m not saying I’m recommending the place, I’m just saying.

I’m saying, damn, I love me some stuffed taters, & by extension whoever’s willing to serve me one like it’s 1989, just before the fad faded pretty much everywhere but Wendy’s. Sure, I can pop a potato into mine own oven, but what are the chances I’m going to grill a little steak with onions, peppers & mushrooms, then whip up a Madeira-fortified gravy swirled into sour cream to top it off with, as per the Cattleman (as I believe the current menu calls it, though this older version calls it the Ranch Hand & doesn’t mention cheddar, which I’m sure it also had)? I’ll tell ya: somewhere between nil & zip.

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The Rockefeller’s a build-your-own dealio, offering roughly 30 toppings; who’s gonna stock up on everything from olives, artichoke hearts & arugula to fresh herbs, the makings for pesto & 5 types of cheese just lest the yen for a home-baked tuber strike, like Mom’s happy hour special with swiss, broccoli, avocado, mushrooms & sour cream?

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And the Director’s breakfast potato with 2 eggs over easy, bacon, roasted peppers, cheddar & Tabasco was the stuff of redeye, redneck inspiration. (Actually, speaking of redeye, some gravy over thick-sliced country ham would be the (gut)bomb too.)

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There are spuds topped with gumbo & layered with salmon, drizzled with truffle oil & spilling with chili—& that’s not all; the kitchen also makes its own chips, both plain & barbecue-flavored.

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Uneven seasoning meant some were way too salty, but it’s hard to find full-throated fault with hot, fresh, greasy, crunchy potato chips, especially when they’re loaded as with the happy hour half-portion below

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& accompanied by sides of

sour cream & decent chili. OTchili

It’s just such unexpected little touches that I most appreciate at any level of dining, from pub grub to haute cuisine. Who’d have imagined the hash-slingers at a sports bar would stuff crimini with the meat of 3 other types of mushrooms, 3 cheeses & 3 herbs, broil them just so, & ring them round with apparently homemade pesto? (It just goes to show the importance of balanced presentation, since the seemingly subtle distinctions between these & the ones I had at The Lobby a while back indeed made all the difference: smaller plate, browner caps, less sauce).

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The same pesto, twinned with a rich, tangy sundried tomato pesto, gave the otherwise plain beef & veggie skewers a reason to live as well.

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Not to belabor the point. Oak Tavern is ultimately just a meat market for alpha jocks & the bimbos who bang them. Still, the element of surprise is always worth noting, & the fact that someone back there on the line obviously puts an ounce of pride & effort into his work is definitely a nice surprise in the midst of the cheesehall.

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