The Merchant Tavern is a large place with a combination of high top and regular size tables, a few stools by the kitchen counter and a huge u-shaped bar with seating in the middle. Windows to the street are on one wall and the back wall is all open kitchen. The tables are closely set with marble tops, exposed ductwork is in the ceiling and there are lots of hanging lights. Wood and some art decorate the walls. It is a more casual option offered by the group that owns the more upscale Raymonds. The menu was all a la carte and had a couple specials offered. It features seasonal, local foods. The place was crowded, casual and noisy. Service was friendly and helpful. They did not have a business card but with a search to the name and place you will find their website for the place on 291 Water St., St. John’s NL.
We started by splitting the Caesar Salad with bacon lardon and Parmigiano. It was hearts of romaine with 2 pieces of smoked pork belly on the side. The leaves were lightly dressed and then dusted with crispy breadcrumbs and capers. It all blended together nicely and made for fun bites of texture and flavor. The pork was very savory and added a nice dimension to the salad.
Fish and chips was made with fried cod, fries and tartar sauce. The server asked if I wanted gravy and dressing with it and said it was the usual way to eat the dish in Newfoundland. They were tasty additions but they did cost an extra $2 for each one. The stuffing was crispy small chunks of seasoned bread and the gravy was a dark one (as opposed to cream gravy. I found I liked the gravy with the fries and the stuffing on its own. The cod was 2 huge pieces of moist fish that had a wonderful crisp to the coating. It was offered in 2 sizes and the smaller just came with one chunk of fish, which in retrospect is what I should have ordered. The coating was quite thick and made it a pretty heavy plate.
Steak Frites was a sliced 10 oz. sirloin bavette, chimichurri, au jus and house cut fries. The meat was chewy but tasty and cooked a perfect rare, as requested. The chimichurri sauce covered the meat and was really good. Underneath it was a slightly thickened sauce that really brought out the flavor. The fries were a really generous portion and good when they soaked up the sauce.
Vinegar Pie was made with a Sagamite crust, topped with Tetley tea ice cream and Newfoundland berries. The sagamite added a bit of corn grit to the crust and the filling was not overly sweet. The berries were really tart and the tea ice cream was soft and slushy. The dish needed more sugar and was not a hit.
However the Madeleines that were six, rich, shell-shaped cakes were a winner. They are baked to order so take a bit to get them but then they come out hot and tender with just the right crisp to the outside edge. They were dusted with sugar and served with a jar of runny caramel sauce to dip them in. They were buttery delicious on their own with a small hint of lemon but also really good when doused with the sweet, sticky, lightly salted caramel. This one was yummy.