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The Tavern at Wrentham Carries on Classic Roadside Restaurant and Bar Tradition


Article by Eric H.
It was like old times at 263 Shears St. in Wrentham, Mass. -- the home of the former Tom's Tavern that is now The Tavern at Wrentham.

With not an empty parking space in the parking lot -- and Shears St. used as additional parking space for the overflow of customers -- the Saturday night crowds at the Tavern at Wrentham ignored recession trends, instead opting for, say, a good drink and a big juicy steak. Annie, an older waitress from the Tom's Tavern days, walked her slow but purposeful walk around the dining room, chatting with kids, bikers, investment banker types, young couples and senior citizens and taking their orders with an elbow on the table. Her classic "What do you want, honey?" demeanor has always added a loveable touch, well embedded into the friendly dining culture of Tom's and now the Tavern at Wrentham.

Conversations creating a collective loud sound added a spirited presence to the long, carpeted room with bright red walls, wood paneled walls and several wide screen televisions, as well as windows open on a cold winter night to keep the room tempertature from getting too hot. Focused, clearly skilled cooks at the open kitchen turned out dishes that you might see on the Food Network -- nothing anemic and generic looking, just loads of food that made you want to say, "I want this...I want that... I want it all...we'll definitely have to come back again."

Not that the scene here was much different than back in the day -- just with a different name and new ownership. The former Tom's Tavern had a great run for many, many years as an always-crowded roadside restaurant and bar serving huge portions of excellent food in an informal, rural setting. Former and current New England Patriots players frequented the place, given the close location to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.  We once met former New England Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan and center-guard Pete Brock here. My wife's cousin, Mike Kerrigan, was once a New England Patriots back-up quarterback who once briefly roomed with Grogan. In the conversation, Grogan and his family commented how much they liked Tom's Tavern. So, when Tom's went out of business it was a sad day for us and, I'm sure, many local every day people, as well as well-known Boston area athletes.

Unfortunately, management and debt conflicts -- combined with an economy that tanked -- resulted in Tom's Tavern closing in March of 2009. You could see the warning signs before Tom's closed its doors: limp onion rings, imitation lobster salad, less tender steaks and a general feeling that everything was not quite right as the restaurant's innate spirited vibe seemed to be on the backburner.

Fortunately, local restaurant owner Doug Smith -- who owns Pizzeria Grande in Walpole, Mass. -- revived the site and reopened the restaurant as The Tavern at Wrentham. With more seating, an updated bar (with an extensive beer list), and food that, in many regards, surpasses the quality of Tom's Tavern, The Tavern at Wrentham has come back to life. It's definitely cleaner-looking than the latter, faded glory days of Tom's. What's more, many of the staff that had worked at Tom's remains employed (in addition to Annie).  Doug is an exceptionally nice guy and it's clear to see that pride of ownership is at peak levels here. Additionally, the lower level dining room --currently awaiting renovation -- will be raised to the main dining room's level, thus creating more dining room space (the Town of Wrentham must approve this first).

We dined on some of the most delicious clam cakes (moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside with lots of clam flavor) and a spinach and onions Italian-style pizza that was of a prize-winning quality -- no surprise given Smith's pizzas at Pizzeria Grande have always been always satisfying. The Tavern also carries on Tom's tradition of serving excellent seafood, including lobster fresh from the coast of Maine, baked stuffed scallops, a fried fisherman's platter, fish and chips (a huge piece of fish!), as well as offering a raw bar with oysters and littlenecks.  The prime rib is another specialty -- the "caveman" cut looks like a meal for two or perhaps three people! Other favorites include New England clam chowder, steamers, mussels,  calamari, buffalo shrimp, crab cakes, chicken wings, crusted Caesar salad with a parmesan bread bowl, half-pound burgers, pulled pork sandwich, and bourbon steak tips. The Oreo Snickers Ice Cream Pie was gargantuan -- perhaps the biggest piece of ice cream pie we've ever seen. When receiving this dessert, two older ladies started laughing at the size of the pie, and had trouble finishing even half of this sweet treat.

After dining, we walked out into the parking lot where the big nighttime sky, wide open fields and flat land looked like a midwest scene. The air was still and there was almost complete silence. This moment just added more appeal to the overall dining experience as the feeling of being in rural Iowa -- but in reality, just a half hour out of the big city of Providence, R.I. --authenticated the country roadside restaurant/bar feel.

That said, we feel that The Tavern at Wrentham is the ultimate roadside restaurant. Bartenders and bar patrons converse with the best of them, families are more than welcome, and the food looks like something out of a culinary magazine. We'll definitely have to come back here again!

The Tavern at Wrentham
263 Shears Ave.
Wrentham, MA
Tel. 508-384-0010


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