Bentonville started a march to become the foodie capital of the region a few years ago. With the opening of Oven and Tap and the upcoming Belfry, 2015 may very well be the year that it firmly plants that stake in the ground. This past week we got a very detailed look at what the next wave of Bentonville culinary has to offer.
When walking into Oven and Tap, the first of likely many to come creations by owners Luke Wetzel and Mollie Mulls, clear your mind of what you expect a wood fire oven restaurant to be. Yes they have a (small) selection of pizza’s, but if you stop there you are missing the best of what the daily menu has to offer.
The daily dinner menu features four snacks, salads, and entrees along with three pizzas, small plates, and sides to pick from. About half of all items are cooked inside the wood oven and all using some combination of fresh local ingredients. It is the wood oven that introduces the most interesting dynamics. Cooking a lasagna or searing a tuna at 1,000° changes the complexity of the dish and the fluctuation of wood fire requires an attentive chef who understands each dish.
On the other end of the spectrum the fresh ingredients bring vibrant flavors into every bite. The pork for the meatballs for instance come from a nearby Bansleys Berkshire Ridge farm in Harrison where pigs are raised better than most humans. You taste it in every bite of the slow simmered meatballs.
Fresh local food is great and all, but it means nothing unless everything is good. Our visit included a southern staple, fried chicken. The chicken was crispy and juicy and full of flavor. We want another visit to prove that everything is not a fluke, but we are very close to crowning this the best fried chicken in the state.
No place would be complete without some quality drinks. The “tap” part of Oven and Tap comes from the 20 head tap wall. The taps contain the expected craft beers, but far more interesting is the cocktails and even Onyx cold brew coffee on tap. With the rise of barrel aged cocktails at many of the best bars in the state it is easy to see the cocktails on tap taking off.
Everything we tried at Oven and Tap was really, really good. This strength is really the main, albeit very small, weakness. The limited menu with only a handful of entrees allows Oven and Tap to focus in on doing a few things really well. The limited menu is going to make less adventurous eaters a little uncomfortable. Our menu had one chicken, vegetarian, beef, and seafood option on the menu. Piecing together small plates, salads, and snacks increases this a little, and there are of course three pizza options available.
This again is less of a complaint rather than a “be warned” statement, even the picky eaters will highly enjoy their meal. Small kids should probably be left at home however, as we struggled to piece together a set of options our little one would try, but even she loved everything.
Oven and Tap really is a reflection of Bentonville as a whole. Yes there are places that have more, run deeper, and can find a way to satisfy everyone. But the quality per square inch of the menu or square mile of the town is hard to compete with.
Here is the thing, Oven and Tap is one of those places that is only going to get better. Much like Bentonville’s culinary scene itself. Which is amazing considering it is already great.As the team runs through more menu items and has more time to experiment with uses for the oven the quality of the dishes will increase even more. It is also a place where, thanks to daily menus based on seasonal ingredients, every visit is going to be a bit different giving guests something new and fresh every time they go in. Just like the way that Bentonville will keep attracting quality culinary talent to the region always offering something fresh and new.
Oven and Tap
215 South Main St
Tue – Sat: 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm