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I had recently eaten the chicken and waffles at the new Niecie's Restaurant over on Troost, so I thought it was only fair that I sample McPeake's version. Niecie's serves fried wings, while McPeake tops his soft waffle with two gorgeously crunchy buttermilk-battered boneless breasts and douses the whole thing with a sensational pecan-maple glaze cooked up with a shot of Kentucky bourbon. Damn good! My Southern-born pal Truman, meanwhile, had the spicy cheese grits, topped with shrimp sautéed in wine and studded with bacon, mushrooms, garlic and fresh lemon juice. "Just like my mama used to make," Truman said, before wiping his brow. "But a hell of a lot hotter!"
Carol Ann was so enamored of another signature dish that she let me have only a tiny taste of her macaroni and cheese made with real crabmeat and a nine-cheese sauce. We goaded every server in the place to tell us all nine cheeses, but no one knew; finally, McPeake came out of the kitchen to rattle them off: smoked Gouda, white Cheddar, yellow Cheddar, Asiago, Provolone, Fontina, Romano, Mozzarella and Swiss. I grabbed another big spoonful and agreed that it may be the best in town.
That was the night that Truman went gaga over one of McPeake's Southern-inspired desserts: banana raisin-bread pudding drizzled with a devilish rum-and-banana liqueur "Foster" sauce (without the flame). I had the itsy-bitsy "world's smallest chocolate sundae," which was cute but as boring as chocolate-sauce sundaes of any other size.
I returned one afternoon for lunch at the bar and dug greedily into the open-faced Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, which might be the most decadent variation on this fattening concoction I've ever tasted. McPeake cooks his pit ham and turkey on the big rotisserie in the kitchen and then blankets the meat in a Swiss-cheese glaze.
My friend Bob was so overwhelmed by all the dishes on the menu that he almost couldn't decide what to eat. We shared a few starters, including a sumptuous tower of green-tomato slices, flash-fried and layered with crabmeat, smoked Gouda and a kicky sweet-mustard aïoli. I love the new trend of making fries from healthy vegetables — in this case, slices of meaty portobello mushroom dusted in evanescent fry flour, quick-fried and served with a chili-seasoned "Come Back Sauce," which McPeake described as "Southern pink sauce" before adding that "everyone loves it." I won't argue; the pink sauce was even better than the gravy on the fine fried chicken livers.
We wanted a cup of the chef's chicken and Spaetzle soup, but the Tavern offered only bowls, so our thoughtful waiter brought us each a ramekin that had a spoonful of the fragrant broth but not one of the little dumplings. (I had a full bowl on a later visit, and the soup was very good.) Bob's trio of stylish Tavern Sliders consisted of an Angus burger, a tiny sandwich with a piece of fried chicken dripping with bacon-onion sour cream, and a Maryland crab cake that Bob insists is the old Bristol crab-cake recipe. (Why not — McPeake helped create it.)
That was the night I had the plump, air-fried but fabulously juicy rotisserie chicken basted in a honey-cumin glaze and a side of sour-cream mashers. I ate so much, in fact, that I was tempted to snuggle down into one of the 100-year-old booths and take a tiny little nap. But I suddenly felt a kick under the table. Bob insisted it wasn't he.