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Tavo restores class to the Kress Building

by Brian Clarey

BY BRIAN CLAREY | editor@yesweekly.com

All too often, lunch for me is something I squeeze into a busy workday or jam into my mouth while sitting at my desk. Sometimes I forego it altogether.

But every once in a while I clear off a midday slot in my calendar, find an appropriate lunch date and make an event of it.

I had been meaning to try Tavo Restaurant & Tavern in downtown Greensboro for months, partly for its reputed standards of elegance and class, and partly because of its location in the Kress Building.

I’ve been writing about this structure for years: the Greek Revival ceiling, the stately quarter columns that line the room, the façade adorned with terra cotta medallions of tobacco and narcissus bulbs.

Actual narcissus bulbs, developed by the brother of dime-store magnate Samuel H. Kress for growth in North Carolina soil, were sold exclusively in the Greensboro Kress store.

Tavo incorporates the elegance of the first-floor space of this historic building, adorning it with a massive chandelier, a dignified color scheme that incorporates crimson and dark wood tones with the alabaster base, and a mural frescoed high on the back wall of Jean-Antoine Watteau’s “Les Comédiens Italiens,” the original of which hangs in the National Gallery in Washington DC.

In short, this place is bursting with class, and I’m eager to see a menu that complements the décor.

Alas, Tavo is bound by the rules of commerce that govern lunch in downtown Greensboro. The menu and its price points are comparable with just about every other place on the strip: salads, sandwiches, chicken fingers and wings, with a few inspired entrées like gourmet sliders, a smothered pork chop and signature fried chicken.

Tavo bills itself as a Southern restaurant, so the inclusion of items like fried catfish and country steak is to be expected. But I order a more contemporary dish — the steak salad, with fresh and crisp greens and a sliced flatiron cut, which comes with a house-made vinaigrette. My date orders grilled tilapia, served in a generous portion with a choice of sides. Tavo’s side dishes are quickly gaining notoriety on Elm Street — the mac and cheese, in particular, has a reputation for decadence and gooiness.

And while our lunch is quite good — excellent, really — we are informed that Tavo comes to life when the workday is done.

Martini specials anchor the bar business, which leans heavily toward young professionals on Thursday afternoons. A lengthy wine list that includes several labels of Champagne and a host of signature drinks cater to the sophisticated imbibers. This is perhaps the nicest place to drink in downtown Greensboro at this point in time.

And the dinner menu, too, is more in line with the stated elegance of the place. A bevy of steaks include a T-bone, a NY strip and a Sunday prime rib special. Seafood dishes are based on shrimp, salmon and tilapia, with regular specials that highlight the chef’s art. Chicken and pork selections pay homage to the restaurant’s Southern roots, as does the red-velvet cupcake, a signature dessert.

I’ll be back for dinner, and not just for the food. Tavo is beautiful, a fitting dining room — finally — in the lobby of the historic Kress Building, an art-deco treasure in Greensboro’s busiest district.

WANNA go?

Tavo Restaurant & Tavern; 212 S. Elm St., Greensboro; 336.285.7360; tavonc.com

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