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Tiger's Tale Bar & Grill
1290 Route 206 South
Rocky Hill, Mercer County, New Jersey
(609) 924-0262

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online

The Tiger's Tale (as in Princeton Tiger) has enjoyed a long, full life: fourteen years under its current eponym and, in previous incarnations, as Black Bart's and The Foolish Fox. And one glance at the crowded parking lot should be enough to convince you that this popular happy-tappy is still going strong. Service is youthful yet competent; and this is a great spot to blow the froth off a couple, or to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine. As for the food... Well, cast your lot with the perfectly acceptable "pub grub" (burgers, steaks, sandwiches, etc.) and you'll be on fairly firm gastronomic ground; start philandering about with more creative items, on the other hand, and you are sure to find disappointment waiting in the wings.

You see, despite the self-congratulatory blurbs noted on the second page of the menu -- "All our choice aged beef is butchered in our kitchen and never frozen... Fresh, never frozen U.S.D.A. ground beef... Fresh seafood delivered daily... Desserts made daily in our kitchen" -- vittles obviously take a back seat here; the bar's the thing. It's big and bustling, decked out with posters, faux Tiffany lamps, rustic lanterns, blackboard specials and assorted memorabilia. Various ales, lagers, stouts and microbrews (listed without prices, by the way) hold a prominent place. There's also an extensive list of martinis at $5.50 per libation. Wines, as you might expect in such a setting, clearly receive short shrift. Glasses of J. Lohr Chardonnay ($4.95), Stival Pinot Grigio ($3.95) and Indigo Hills Pinot Noir ($5.00) are the best picks of a rather meager litter.

The dining room, while somewhat smaller than the bar area, is spruced up with similar decorative embellishments, including flannel-backed vinyl tablecloths and captain's chairs. But if you happen to be in search of a quiet romantic evening, you've most assuredly come to the wrong address. Things get rather frenzied here, families of every size, shape and description abound, and children are both seen and heard. So consider yourself forewarned.

When starting things off, the mozzarella sticks served with a tomato dipping sauce ($4.95) are quite satisfying, as are the fried chicken fingers ($4.95). You also can't go too wrong with the tender and succulent mussels marinara ($6.95). However, if you're at all like my wife, you won't be able to resist the scrumptious bar pie ($4.95, 50 cents extra for each additional topping). And for those who are a bit more health conscious, the steamed vegetable platter ($5.95) might be just the ticket. Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots and mushroom caps are cooked just right and then presented au naturel or topped with your favorite cheese.

Moving onward and upward... continue majoring in simple fare and all will be well. For lovers of the great American grilled hamburger, either the cheddar burger ($5.50) or the Cajun burger ($5.25) should live up to your expectations. Among the sandwiches, I would recommend the French dip ($5.95), thinly sliced roast beef served on French bread with au jus, or the baked chicken cordon bleu ($6.50). The boneless breast is stuffed with smoked ham and Swiss cheese and then topped with a wonderfully decadent cream sauce. If you would prefer a salad, be sure to sample the Cajun chicken Caesar ($7.50). Fresh romaine lettuce and slices of spicy grilled chicken breast are tossed with the establishment's excellent homemade Caesar dressing. And speaking of greenery, the house salad ($4.95), a real find, features grated hardboiled egg, baby shrimp and a rich tomato dressing.

Thus far, you've managed to stay out of harm's way by going with what this establishment does best. However, should you insist upon becoming more adventurous, bear in mind that entrees can be somewhat unpredictable here, and finny creatures the most unpredictable of all. At first glance, the broiled lemon and pepper seasoned catfish filet ($9.95) appeared to be somewhat tough and overcooked... then I turned it over. The underside was completely RAW. I sent it swimming back to the kitchen and ordered the flounder broiled with butter and white wine ($10.50). It was properly prepared, but it was also totally innocuous. On the other hand, the broiled orange roughy dressed up with herb butter was the pinnacle of perfection. Go figure. Crustaceans are infinitely more consistent. The colossal shrimp ($11.95), for example, are perfectly grilled and accompanied by an extraordinarily rich lobster Newburg sauce. Very, very nice.

But why tempt the culinary muses? Stick with the steak... And the 10-ounce grilled filet mignon with bearnaise sauce ($17.95) is certainly the best of the lot. The 10-ounce rib-eye is another delectable possibility, and it may also be ordered dusted with Cajun spices.

Desserts -- some of which are made in-house -- are a mixed bag, so I'd advise you to tread lightly. I'm always in the mood for peanut butter pie ($3.95), but this establishment's version is entirely too gelatinous, tastes suspiciously artificial, and has all the earmarks of mass production. On the other hand, the homemade apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream ($3.50) is quite good, and so is the properly chewy brownie cake a la mode ($3.75). Coffee ($1.25) isn't bad; but the decaf espresso -- both whimpy and weak -- tastes instant to me.

Despite its shortcomings, the Tiger's Tale continues to pack them in. The food isn't exactly gourmet, but, then again, it isn't pretending to be. The "pub grub" is, for the most part, good, solid fare, the portions are generous, and the prices more than reasonable. And, besides, this is a fun place. Stop by with a group, dress as casual as you like, order with a bit of circumspection... and a good time will be had by all.

Cuisine: American/pub food
Hours: Mon - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.; Sun, 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.; Sunday Brunch, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major, except Diners Club
Attire: Casual
Smoking: The restaurant does not have a nonsmoking section
Reservations: Only for parties of eight or more during the week; no reservations accepted on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License
Price: Inexpensive/moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Specials: Sunday brunch; live entertainment

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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