As many restaurants and awesome food purveyors as we have in the area, it never seems to be enough when Moms’ and Dads’ Weekends come around at the University. And somehow, I never remember when they are until I’m standing at the doughnut shop on a weekend morning and trying to figure out why it seems like everyone in town is there with me. Our family’s tactic on weekends like that is to either hunker down and eat at home (gasp!) or spread out to the surrounding smaller communities. During the pandemic, Philo Tavern was doing family meals for pick-up to help keep themselves afloat. Their tasty, affordable dishes became a part of our regular rotation during those long months, and we have continued to enjoy their delicious food, both to-go and in person, ever since.
But the star of the show is the food, which is both surprisingly diverse for a local watering hole and very good quality. On a recent visit, I enjoyed a couple of longtime favorites and some new-to-me things, and I hope you’ll consider taking a little field trip out to try them for yourselves.
At a recent visit, we began our meal with my eleven-year-old’s favorite, the pot stickers ($5.95). The six crispy dumplings were filled with a savory meat and vegetable filling and served with sweet and tangy duck sauce. Sometimes my youngest orders these for himself as a meal.
We also ordered the spicy cheese curds ($5.95), which were a new-to-us item. I often raise a skeptical brow when food in the Midwest is described as spicy, but these packed a punch! The crispy, zippy nuggets of cheese appeared to be hand-battered and were served with ranch, but marinara was also available. These morsels were not just tongue-tingling but also flavorful, and I kept returning to the basket even when my nose was running.
My absolute favorite item on Philo Tavern’s menu are the medallions of beef tenderloin ($19.95). The medallion meal comes as half a pound of filet, plus a choice of potato, vegetable, and parker house roll. My medallions were perfectly medium rare with a simple but flavorful seasoning that enhanced and didn’t overpower the taste of the meat, which almost melted in my mouth. I chose mashed potatoes with white gravy and salad for sides. The mashed potatoes were the real deal, with the occasional lump of actual potato as evidence, and the white gravy was silky and thick. This meal was so satisfying, and felt a little like robbery at the under-twenty-dollar price point.
The salad was composed of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and croutons; nothing fancy, but then again, it didn’t need to be.
The same tenderloin medallions as the meal are also available in sandwich form ($12). It was a very generous serving of beef stacked onto a toasted roll, and there was an option to add cheese for a small additional charge. The sandwich was accompanied by chips, our server said, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover these were thick, house-made potato chips with a light seasoning and wonderful crunch.
The fried chicken at Philo Tavern is a family favorite. On this visit, we ordered a four-piece meal, which comes typically as breast, wing, thigh, and leg, with a side of green beans and a baked potato ($12.50), but we subbed another thigh for the wing. The chicken coating was golden and crispy, well-seasoned without being too much for sensitive palates. The meat itself was very tender, and the pieces were a good size. The green beans were not the squeaky haricots verts of most steak restaurants, but rather tender, cut beans that had enjoyed a long time in a pot with a generous amount of butter. This was a tasty and filling meal that definitely felt more like a chicken dinner at Grandma’s house rather than something picked up from a fast food place.
We ordered two additional meals for carryout. The first was the half-pound hamburger ($9) with bacon ($2) and cheese ($1), and a side of sweet potato fries ($1.75). The burger had two hand-formed patties on a brioche bun. This was a hefty sandwich with juicy, well-seasoned meat. The two thick-cut bacon strips were definitely worth the upcharge, adding a discernable crunchy, salty hit. I’m not generally a big fan of sweet potato fries, but these wide rectangles cut in a crinkle pattern were a perfect mix of sweet and salty, with a unique seasoning that made a dip completely unnecessary.
Our final item was a quarter-pound burger, plain ($6), and a side of fries ($1.75) with ranch. This was the downsized version of the half-pound burger, with one patty instead of two. The fries were long, substantial square-cut strips of potato with a very light seasoned coating.
In addition to the tasty food, the servers are consistently kind and accommodating, and our drinks were topped off well before we drained them. The menu does have several vegetarian items, such as a Beyond burger, and a substantial list of other sandwiches and entrees. I’d really like to try the bourbon brown sugar tomahawk pork chop ($18.95) next time we visit. There are also daily rotating hot lunch specials that run about $8.50.
Now, the selfish part of me didn’t want to share Philo Tavern with you, because having this secret weapon of tastiness in my back pocket has been really valuable. But greatness deserves to be shared. Philo Tavern is, well, a tavern with a nice selection of beers on tap and variety of spirits you’d expect. And in addition to the standard suspects, they have Hamm’s on tap, which many Midwesterners of a certain age will remember due to commercials in the 60s and 70s featuring a cartoon bear’s antics and distinctive jingle, “From the land of sky blue waters,” and my husband can still sing this song from memory.
The restaurant has mostly four- and six-top tables, though they do have a couple of eight-tops toward the back, and they are typically happy to put tables together for bigger groups if they aren’t too busy, or if you call ahead. They also have a long, traditional bar with seating.
The fried chicken is only available on Wednesday and Thursday in the evenings, but here’s a little secret: they also sell it in a family pack for four people, with eight pieces of chicken, a large mashed potatoes and gravy, large green beans, and rolls ($25) or two people, ($15). Entrees, such as my favorite, the medallions of beef, are available Wednesday through Saturday evenings. There are a variety of other specials on Friday and Saturday nights including prime rib and fried catfish. The Tavern fills up quickly on the weekends, so either go early or prepare to wait a bit. I would be shirking my duties if I did not also mention that their restrooms got a gorgeous update during the pandemic and have been sparkling clean every time we’ve visited.
Philo Tavern does have a Facebook page, but they don’t update it often, and they do not have online ordering. Remember that they are closed on Sunday, so keep that in mind before you make the short drive out to Philo.
101 W Washington St
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m