Luke Wetzel is a brunchman.
That being the case, making the decision between first rolling out brunch or lunch service at his downtown Bentonville restaurant, Oven & Tap, was a no-brainer. “I care more about brunch,” he unabashedly admits. So four weeks ago, he and his team quietly—the better to work out all the lumps—rolled out the restaurant’s Sunday brunch menu. The plan is to move to a Saturday and Sunday brunch service by the end of the month.
Adhering firmly to the restaurant’s farm-to-table, seasonal principles, the aptly named “Sunday Funday Brunch” menu takes a playful approach to traditional brunch. “We kinda wanted to think outside-the-box here and not serve a traditional brunch because we aren’t a traditional restaurant,” Wetzel tells me.
O&T’s riff on traditional brunch kicks off with the first item on the menu: “Coffee & Zeppole,” a light, airy ricotta cheese-based fried doughnut (a beignet in my book!) served with a coffee (à la Onxy Coffee Labs) crème anglaise for dipping.
Another traditional breakfast twist rounds out the “Antiuovo” or “Before the Egg” section of the menu: the “O&T Sourdough Toast”. Think two big, thick slices of O&T’s from-scratch sourdough bread, toasted crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, then slathered with a savory, melted spread of ricotta, mascarpone, cracked black pepper and honey.
For its part, the entire “Uovo” or “Egg” portion of the menu is an exercise in both putting traditional brunch outside its box and celebrating the egg. Take for instance, the “Cheddar Drop Biscuit with Beer Braised Beef Ragu & an Egg,” where the egg is baked right smack in the middle of a braised short rib ragu (braised with the help of Ozark Beer Co.’s Cream Stout brew), all served with airy, cheddar-drop biscuits. Or the “Okra and Shell Bean Gratin with a Baked Egg,” or the “Egg Sandwich,” an open-faced focaccia sandwich topped with sautéed bacon, shallots, hot peppers and fried eggs served with a side of peppery arugula.
The menu takes a direct stab at an all-out traditional breakfast with the “O&T Breakfast,” a plate of two sunny-side up fried eggs, crispy salt and vinegar smashed potatoes (with a side of the restaurant’s classic tomato sugo) served with slow-roasted pork belly. The belly is cured for 24 hours with salt, brown sugar and black pepper. (Since eating this dish, I’ve thought of little else but those succulent, smoky slices of pork belly.)
Two pizzas (this is O&T after all) do their part to pay homage to the egg. When we stopped in, options were between a pie with tomato sugo, bacon, red onions and an egg or a roasted mushroom, caramelized onion pizza, also topped with an egg. (We ordered the former sure that leftovers would provide us with a later-that-day snack. No chance. We devoured it.)
Aside from its playfulness and its celebration of the egg, what really makes this a super-funday brunch menu is the fact that it offers up something for everyone.
For instance, maybe you’re a vegetarian or you’ve come to O&T because you’ve heard these folks are crazy about fresh, seasonal produce or you simply want to pace yourself before you gorge on pork belly and pizza. In that case, there are a variety of choices, such as a composed salad of “Local Tomatoes and Watermelon with Field Peas, Chiles and Cilantro” or “Burrata with Green Beans, Toasted Almond and Basil,” or fresh lettuces with a house made dressing, such as lemon vinaigrette or creamy buttermilk. House made Granola with Arkansas Peaches with Yogurt or Milk” offers another lighter option.
Or maybe you’re someone who takes your brunch a little on the sweet side. For those folks, Pastry Chef Julie Spies’ “Sourdough Bread Pudding with Bananas, Peanuts, Chocolate and Whipped Cream,” or fresh weekend pastry, such as peach and buttermilk muffins, cranberry and dark chocolate scones or coffee cake will do the trick.
But if you’re a brunch person, chances are you’re up for a brunch cocktail. There, O&T’s new brunch menu’s also got you covered. In fact, the prospect of brunch cocktails played a role in the decision to begin serving brunch before lunch to begin with. “Brunch gives us an opportunity to deliver more of an oven and tap experience,” explains Luke. “We love the one-two punch of it.”
As for the current “Sunday Funday Brunch” cocktail menu, given that tomatoes are in season right now, three different Bloody Marys head up the list. Two take full advantage of O&T’s freshly milled Bloody Mary base, a concoction of fresh Arkansas tomatoes, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and turmeric. And while both are vodka-based and served with an array of in-house pickled veggies, only one is topped off with Ozark Beer Co.’s Cream Stout.
The third Bloody Mary is for all intents and purposes, a “green drink,” and is made with a base of tomatillos, cucumber and jalapenos. Honey, limejuice and of course, vodka balance the drink. Other O&T takes on classic brunch cocktails include a Peach Bellini (made with a peach shrub as opposed to a purée) and a Corpse Reviver #2. But the cocktail menu is still a-work-in-progress, Luke says, with a Corpse Reviver #3 and a spinoff on the restaurant’s now classic “Garden Mule” in the pipeline. “A Mule might kick you a little too hard in the morning,” explains Luke for why the Garden Mule itself didn’t make it onto the brunch menu.