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Five Horses Tavern -- promissing

We went, not knowing it had only recently opened. We had to wait to get in (occupancy), and were carded outside -- the first time in a decade or two. The hostess took our name and told us it would be 40 minutes. We found a place to stand at the upper bar. Their beer menu was huge. They had a small selection of unchallenging craft cocktails (using good ingredients). I spied Pimms and Campari and ordered a cocktail of my own making (equal parts gin, Campari, and Pimm's with a half part of lemon juice). The bartender made them without complaint, despite the crowd. The lemon sort of got lost in the noise, which was fine. The lower bar had a good selection of whiskies on the backbar. Alas, the rail gin is New Amsterdam. My feeling is that their bar program seems serious about craft cocktails and will probably improve. The cocktail prices were very fair -- cheap even. I would like to explore their vast craft beer offerings sometime.

Our table was soon ready, and somehow the hostess found us in the packed restaurant. We sat at a nice high-top. The food menu is light creative pub. We ordered a selection of starters, but there were good-looking burgers, gussied-up Mac&Cheese, ribs, and (oddly) pad thai. I think the menu could use a bit of focusing.

The pork belly taco was outstanding. The fried calamari came with fruit (supposed to be mango, but tasted more like unripe pineapple) was ok - a bit sweet for my taste and unevenly coated. Well cooked, though. The mussels were cooked perfectly and delicious, but the broth was too salty to sop up. The elote (corn on the cob with cheese) was way overcooked, but it was also overcooked when we had it in Mexico. The pea salad was tasty and used interesting greens, but needed salt. The white bean hummus was very good, but it seemed like they ran out of good bread and toasted a very white-bread baguette.

The atmosphere was very cheerful, crowded, noisy, and fun. And young. Their walk-in beer cooler was neat, but the fluorescent light glare was annoying. They should tint the glass. Service was attentive and friendly, if a bit frazzled.

I think the tavern has great potential. It was supposedly only their second day (or maybe it was the bartender's second day -- not sure). There are some rough edges to work out.


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  1. Including having a website!

    1. Nice report! Thanks!

      Looking forward to hearing more about this place...

      1. I went with a large group last night. I see some potential, but there are definitely some issues to work out. First, the good:
        -The beer selection is terrific. They seemed to be out of a handful of beers on the menu, but in a group of beer lovers everyone found a few interesting brews they were happy with.
        -The space is interesting, although I'm not sure it's being used as well as it could. Bar space is more cramped than it probably should be.
        -The menu is fun. Pork belly tacos, fried cornish game hen, tater tots, mac n cheese with various add-ins, jalapeno mashed potatoes, and so on.
        -Prices were very reasonable, especially on beer.
        -Service was pretty good. We were a big group but they didn't seem annoyed and gave us good (and accurate) updates about when our table would be ready.
        And the not as good:
        -It's very loud. Some of this is probably the room itself, but I wonder if there are things the restaurant can do to help this out. I wasn't a huge fan of the music (Dispatch? Is it 2003?)
        -Some uneven execution. One friend loved her burger, another was disappointed and thought it was underseasoned. Both appeared to be cooked correctly. The pork belly in the taco was nicely cooked but the dish itself left something to be desired. More acid or spice was definitely necessary. It's also served in a small flour tortilla and I couldn't help wishing they'd used a corn tortilla instead. My mac n cheese with heirloom tomatoes couldn't live up to its promise. It tasted heavy on butter with a mild swiss-like cheese. The overall flavor was pretty underwhelming, despite its richness. The heirloom tomatoes didn't have a whole lot of flavor. A friend's buttermilk fried chicken tenders were excellent.
        The verdict is that it seems like a place that just opened, which is fair. I'd definitely go back for beers, not so sure about the food. I'd love to have good beer options in Davis in addition to Foundry and Underbones.

        4 Replies
        1. re: morecheesejer

          --Prices were very reasonable, especially on beer.

          Can you give some examples of specific beers with prices and pour sizes?

          I have been hearing the opposite about 5 horses and the online sample menu that was posted on BA also suggested higher pricing than lord hobo or the publick house - which seem less expensive than Redbones these days actually.

          1. re: LStaff

            Sorry to be off-topic, but I was pleasantly surprised that Christopher's still pours 16oz for $5 for just about all their offerings, including things like Jack D'Or and Jack's Abby Smoke & Dagger. It's not going to win awards for food, but a burger is something like $7, so how can one complain?

            1. re: emannths

              I think they pour 14oz tumblers like their brethren at Cambridge Common.

              Cambridge Common
              1667 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

              1. re: Unfoodie

                All of the ubiquitous shaker "pint" glasses hold only 14 ozs. (at best) with any kind of head. Its been a while since I've been to Camb. Common, but the last time I went, they seemed to have ditched the cheater pints with thick glass bottoms (which held 12 ozs at the most).

        2. Hopefully they'll last longer than Sauce, 400 Highland and Sagra. Wish they'd lose the 20 giant TVs, though.

          400 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA 02144

          1. We've been three times now, most recently yesterday for lunch. First time was too soon after opening - they were out of a lot of stuff. We had the vegan pizza (B was definitely missing the cheese, but nevertheless, he finished it off.) Don't remember what I had.

            Second time was ok - I had the tuna taco (kind of flavorless, despite being coated in shichimi) and a patatas bravas-like taco, which I preferred. But both were fine - served the purpose of a decent bar snack. B went for the gusto and had the fried chicken sandwich - he enjoyed that, except he found something too sweet about it (honey, I guess). Really good fries - the kind that we like, hand-cut-looking, neither too thick nor thin. The guy next to us demolished his fried chicken dinner. He told us he gets it about once a week.

            Yesterday was the best meal yet - the ginger scallion noodles were surprisingly good. They actually had a wok-charred flavor. The mushrooms mixed in were too salty, but I could overlook that. The bartender told me that the noodles were near and dear to the chef's heart - it's his rendition of a favorite dish of his. Huge portion for $10. B's meal got all the guys at the bar telling the bartender, "I'll have what he's having." So three guys at the bar were all eating the chili. B loved it. Definitely not your typical Texas style since it has beans in addition to 15 chilies, short rib, oxtail, kielbasa, all served up in a small cast iron skillet. He was begging me to try some, so I relented with a taste of the sauce. Pretty damned tasty, I must say. His short rib taco was just ok - he wanted some moisture in the form of crema or other sauce.

            Service is a HUGE improvement over the former two incarnations in this space. We've gotten the same two bartenders all three times and they are on top of their game - refilling water, chatting just enough, and best of all, they are both very familiar with the menu. Great beer menu and several inexpensive wines by the glass, including one sustainable red. And they have college football (no audio...that's ok, though)! This place is definitely in our weekend lunch rotation.

            1 Reply
            1. re: digga

              Kielbasa in the chili - I like it!

            2. Prices are fair if you know what you're looking for and you order correctly. Service is new opening friendly, which is fine by me. Good adition to the neighborhood and another place to get decent brews in the area.

              1. I tried this place last week and was unimpressed by the food and the service. We ordered tuna tacos, the veggie platter, roasted brussels sprouts, and a grilled brie sandwich with tater tots. I like well roasted / dark brussels sprouts, but these sprouts were charred beyond recognition and we had to send them back. This seemed to really fluster our waiter who asked if we'd like something else and when we said we didn't he just kinda stood there. Blink. Blink. They did take them off the bill though, which was nice. The tuna tacos were okay, probably the best of what we ordered. The grilled brie was pretty poor and the tater tots are just like what you can get in the freezer section for $1.59. That's fine, I like trash food, but don't make such a big deal about Ore-Ida tater tots (the waiter had raved about them to us). The one good thing was we sat by the fire and it was cozy and comfortable and we weren't rushed, even when we lingered over our wine and picked at the food. With so many other options in the hood, Five Horses is not a place I'm dying to rush back to.

                1 Reply
                1. re: yumyum

                  Oh dear - I hope I didn't have anything to do with this "bum steer." I think of Five Horses as a lunch-at-the-bar kind of place, not really for dinner. But that doesn't excuse bad food or service.

                  From your list, I've only had the tuna tacos, which were ho-hum.

                  I think simple snacks at the bar is the way to go but I don't think you'll return.

                2. I've been there several times since they opened in September -- last time I noticed they have adjusted their menu a few times, and also have more cocktails featured. Overall, Five Horses is great. Booze-wise, the beer menu is enormous, the cask strong ale they had on my last visit was great. Their rotating draft selection always has several outstanding beers that you don't see anywhere else. Some of their whiskey drinks are really well crafted. The food is good too, the pork belly tacos and short rib tacos are fantastic. The mussels and cheese plate are also very good. The skirt steak and the duck entrees are the only ones I've tried, but both were properly cooked, well-seasoned, and had good side pairings. The only downsides are that the calamari was a little liquidy on the bottom, and also the chili had lots of spices that all melded into something not very good. The chili probably should be simplified and made more consistent with a normal chili.
                  But overall, I'll definitely be heading back soon.

                  1. Five Horses Tavern - Another Davis Square hit" - I know, there is a world outside DS ..

                    We like to sit at the upper bar of this place, even though it gets a bit loud as it gets later. In the mood for a killer appetizer, that nearly filled up 2 people? Get the spicy buttermilk fried chicken tenders (more like chicken scallopini). Bite after bite of spicy, hot, crunchy chicken with 2 nice dipping sauces. The pork belly taco is rich, the pickled onions have a tender crunch. We tried the cold sesame noodle side and 5HT version disappointed me. I wanted more soy, heat, sesame, zip. Grilled hanger steak for wifey was, well, rich too. Beautiful med-rare meat, (and yes) rich goat cheese & scallion mashed potato, salty sliced marinated mushrooms & thin green beans. Wide selection of beer & bourbon & wine. Reasonable food prices, attentive service, relaxing ambiance. Go, its good.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: hounda

                      I was into this place but can't stop going to Foundry to get the Chef's Burger there.
                      Did think the same about the cold sesame noodles though, lacked a little bit of everything and was really bland. It was off the menu the last time I went, so I thought they got rid of it. Must have been temporary.

                      Far more rotating beer choices at Five Horses than at Foundry though.

                    2. I'm sorry, but the misspelling in the title of this post, even a year later, still leads me to read it as that the poster is in favor of taking a miss on Five Horses.