Rascals Tavern: Home to smoky cocktails, diverse dishes
By: Jennifer Zeleski
Few requirements come to mind when you imagine a tavern. Maybe it’s wooden panels covering the walls, high shelves peppered with liquor bottles, or the lingering smoky aroma that makes the space feel all the more nostalgic for somewhere you may have never been.
Rascals Tavern, located at 2270 Golden Gate Dr. in Greensboro, checks all of these boxes. Rascals opened in July and has already made a name for itself. There are high tables and low ones, offering an intimate experience, or one to gather with friends after a long day. Live music fills the space on Thursday through Saturday nights, and every day there is a $3 glass of fresh, house-made sangria worthy of a weekend toast. The bar is where you’ll find the source of the smoky atmosphere. The smoke doesn’t come from cigars, but rather smoked cocktails, handcrafted and distinctly reminiscent of campfires on cold nights.
Although the liquor, wine and beer selections are impressive to a commoner and connoisseur, the food is the real reason to stop by. Don’t expect snacks or “bar food” on the menu. Instead, Jessica Borgione, the mastermind and head chef of Rascals Tavern, features different chef specials every night, along with dishes that are inspired by her diverse culinary background.
It was upsetting to have missed the chance to sit on the outdoor patio, under the golden lights during a summer sunset, but a November evening would have to do.
Peyton, my boyfriend, and I took our seats at a table with fresh-cut flowers, under the wall of dart boards, and were given menus that offered dishes from Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, topped with Dijon mustard mayo) to Cleveland Polish Boy sandwich (seared kielbasa, sauerkraut, hand-cut fries, house-made barbecue sauce and coleslaw).
I questioned whether or not I was back in Pennsylvania for a moment, looking over a menu of a tavern my parents could have visited years ago but snapped back to reality when I saw fried green tomatoes and fresh deviled eggs under the appetizers.
The soppressata stood out to us, which we were surprised to find out was homemade, that came sliced on a baguette, topped with olives, soft goat cheese, basil and a balsamic reduction. When it arrived at the table, we were amazed at the sheer amount of ingredients on the plate. There was no shortage of olives or goat cheese, and the white plate had been transformed into a piece of art with dizzying drizzles and pops of paprika.
As much as I appreciated the toppings, with the soft goat cheese giving a creaminess to each bite, the baguette being fresh (always a plus), and the balsamic reduction giving a bite of sweet vinegar, the best part of the plate was its namesake — the soppressata. Its saltiness and savoriness were not overwhelming, and you almost forget that its distant cousin, pepperoni, exists in the same way. The slices of meat were thick enough to have substance and texture, and as much as I love to use bread as a vehicle for cheese and carbs, you wanted a piece of the soppressata in every bite. Borgione’s artistic plating also featured Dijon mustard, which was a delicious pairing that begged for more, if you could find it. It was as if your favorite Italian deli sandwich and restaurant appetizer had a love child. The plate was (mostly) clean when it left the table.
When deciding for our main dishes, Peyton and I were drawn to some of our other favorites to try, but we just couldn’t pass up the daily specials. Every time you visit Rascals, the plate you’re served could be the one, and only time it’s available. So get ‘em while it’s hot!
Peyton settled on the beef brisket hash, which had slow-cooked, 10-hour beef brisket, macaroni and cheese, seared peppers, fried potatoes, fried greens, and came topped with a fried egg and mushroom cream sauce. I chose the pork butt plate, which came with a fried green tomato, fried asparagus, fried bleu cheese balls, garlic mashed potatoes, fried greens, a poached egg, and a blueberry bourbon reduction sauce.
The slight shock factor hit us again when our plates arrived at the table.
Peyton’s was served as a mound of food, with spiral pasta macaroni and cheese hidden underneath the chopped beef, surrounded by severed potatoes and topped with a thick-edged fried egg and bright sautéed greens.
The meat was flavorful but not over-seasoned, and the smokiness of the macaroni and cheese paired well with the fried egg, which was well-cooked and not too greasy or overdone. The dusting of paprika allowed for some extra flavor on the potatoes, which he enjoyed fried, despite preferring shredded or mashed.
On the other side of the table, my plate was the exact opposite. The common theme was sweet rather than savory, and there were blueberries purposefully in several parts of the dish. The base was the garlic mashed potatoes, layered with the fried green tomato and fried bleu cheese balls, topped with the sliced pork butt and an oozing poached egg.
This was one big step out of my comfort zone, but I like to think Borgione wanted it that way.
Every bite was different. I really enjoyed the pairing of the blueberry compote with the mashed potatoes and the savoriness of the pork. It was a pleasant reminder that sweet fruit could go well with meat when done correctly. The blueberries also weren’t reduced to a syrup, they still had structure and offered small bursts of flavor throughout. The fried green tomato and fried bleu cheese balls were well-breaded and fried, but I found their presence to be a little unnecessary as there were so many other flavors happening on the plate. I enjoyed the bites that paired the sautéed greens with the poached egg’s savory presence and getting a few bites of the broken fried breading here and there. The asparagus was good but probably didn’t need to be fried along with the other ingredients.
Overall, we both found that with so many flavors and components, it was difficult to decipher between what we enjoyed and what didn’t need to be included. Each of the plates had so much to offer within each of their added components that certain parts were steaming, and others were barely warm. We agreed that if there were fewer ingredients in each, the time and detail could have been put into the selected ingredients rather than the variety of them, and would take the plates to an even more impressive level.
If you’re looking for a nostalgic tavern, a friendly bar, or just some incredible American food that combines regions, cultures and more, Rascals is the place to be. But just be aware that the tab adds up quickly, as the dishes have higher-end prices and spirits are the same. Brunch is offered all day on Sundays, the porch is pet-friendly, and the food is fresh (both literally and figuratively). At Rascals, you’ll want to get lost in the sauce.
Jennifer Zeleski is a student contributor to YES! Weekly. She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at High Point University.