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Twin Brothers Create One-of-a-Kind Restaurant at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough, Mass.

Mike and Matt Menard have taken their love of local seafood and whiskey to help create a wonderful restaurant that ranks among the best south of Boston

Matt and Michael Menard with wives Syliva (left) and Katrin (right) at Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Sylvia and Mike Menard, Matt and Katrin Menard at The Charred Oak Grill. Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.

Article and photos by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 7/23/2018.

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On a comfortable summer night in downtown Middleborough, Mass., everything seems so right.  At the historic Middleborough Town Hall, a band plays music to hundreds of residents at the Town Hall Summer Concert Series. Many Colonial homes that line Main Street for the quarter mile have American flags draped over their front porches. Couples are out for a twilight walk on Center St., where conversations don't get drowned out by traffic like in other Boston area towns. It's quiet here, almost like a little country town dressed up a little in suburban gear. The overall scene embodies a true slice of small town Americana with a touch of Norman Rockwell and Currier and Ives gracing the still of the early evening and the unmistakable New England quaintness with people out and about in their beloved community.

But what would a small town truly be like, however, without a local eatery where locals congregate for hearty meals and good drinks? Every developed town and city seems to have one, but often the quality varies depending upon the motivation and resources of the owners. Fortunately, The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough fills that need, but goes so far beyond the norm that it actually exceeds many of the highest regarded restaurants of this genre in Boston and Providence.

Bacon and scallop appetier infused with whiskey from The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Scallops over bourbon candied bacon at The Charred Oak Tavern.

Identical twin brothers Mike and Matt Menard, at 35-years-old, had a strong vision on what kind of restaurant they wanted to open and worked with contractors and eventually staff to ensure those dreams would become reality. Opening in June 2017 at the former Antique Emporium store, The Charred Oak Tavern took about eight months to build, according to Mike. Matt's wife, Katrin grew up in the area and her family owns a coffee shop, Coffee Milano, across the street from The Charred Oak Tavern. Katrin and Mike's wife, Sylvia, work at the restaurant, also, making it truly a family-owned business.

The Charred Oak Tavern, downtown Middleboro, Mass.
Front of The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough.

he first step into The Charred Oak Tavern immediately reveals something special. The layout creates the cozy feeling with a large, rustic dining room and handsome bar under high ceilings with duct work, exposed brick walls, wagon wheel chandeliers, industrial lighting, decorative white lights, reclaimed wood flourishes, copper touches, wooden barn doors, leather sofas, high-top tables made from whiskey barrels and big front windows allowing warm sunlight into the restaurant and views of the quiet downtown.

Dining room and bar at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Main dining room at The Charred Oak Tavern.

The Charred Oak Tavern -- meant to be primarily a restaurant and bar for the locals -- has gone way beyond expectations as people from the Boston area, Cape Cod (not too far away), New Bedford, Rhode Island and Connecticut have taken notice of this beautiful restaurant, knowing it is worth the drive. At one point, customers found themselves with up to two-and-one-half-hour waits, but that has been somewhat offset by the addition of the new, adjoining function room -- otherwise, used for birthdays, anniversaries, whiskey-themed dinners, Kentucky Derby parties and many other events and celebrations.

Function room at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.

Function room at The Charred Oak Tavern.

As an outstanding local seafood restaurant and whiskey bar that happens to do everything else right, The Charred Oak Tavern draws upon nearby New Bedford -- the top grossing commercial fishing port and largest seafood processing center in the United States -- for its fresh seafood. Additionally, the Menard brothers love for, and extensive knowledge of whiskey plays a major role in The Charred Oak Tavern's appeal.

The Charred Oak Tavern's name comes from the process of charring oak barrels for aging whiskey. To no one's surprise, the Menards offer an extensive array of drinks from "distillery masters" from all over the world and features craft bourbons,whiskey cocktails,
bourbon-aged wines, and mixed drinks (many beer selections, too!). The brothers once even traveled to Iceland to visit, Floki, one of their spirits' distilleries. The drinks selection is ample and caters to all tastes.

Bar area at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Bar area at The Charred Oak Tavern.

"Along with a great dining experience, this is a great learning center," said Matt. "We have something on the chalkboard that says 'Know your whiskey' -- know what it is and what it pairs well with. The bartenders, the staff are all educated on this. Like Jefferson's (Ocean) Whiskey that is sailed around the world for two years. That's why that whiskey almost takes on a saline flavor because of the sea. Here, it is all about education rather than the cliche of taking a shot of whiskey because you lost a bet."

Whiskey drink special from The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Whiskey drink from The Charred Oak Tavern.  Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.

Many of the food selections, too, have a whiskey-infused taste like the bourbon maple glazed salmon, bourbon steak tips and the whiskey-smoked short rib BBQ mac and cheese
with Tratolle pasta, whiskey flambe short ribs and three cheese BBQ sauce tossed and topped with whiskey smoked sugar. The mouthwatering Charred Oak Tavern Steak -- a New York center cut sirloin dolloped with garlic butter and served with smoked whiskey BBQ mashed potatoes and green beans is absolutely phenomenal. The steak rivals the high profile Boston area steak houses.

"We don't cut corners on steak," said Mike. "We buy quality steak and want it to be consistently great. Some places you go, the steak comes out different each time. We are willing to pay a higher price for the quality."

New York center cut sirloin steak with garlic butter, smoked BBQ whiskey mashed potatoes and green beans from The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
The Charred Oak Tavern Steak.

The Charred Oak Tavern offers a well balanced, family-friendly menu
-- with an accent on slow-cooked meals -- that features appetizers, homemade soups (like the New England clam chowder, French onion and kale), fresh salads, big mouthwatering burgers, oversized sandwiches and wraps, chicken, steak, lamb, pork, Italian pasta dishes and the aforementioned seafood. It's hard to choose what to order. For starters, The Charred Oak scallops and bacon with seared scallops are seated on a thick-cut slice of bourbon candied bacon and scallions. The Charred Oak Tavern quahogs are stuffed with locally sliced linguica, applewood smoked bacon, red peppers and onions and finished with a roasted garlic-lemon aioli. Back to the whiskey theme, the Charred Oak Bison burger features bison beef, whiskey-infused caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and mixed greens. A lobster roll comes in a toasted roll or grilled wrap alongside coleslaw. Fried seafood selections like the fisherman's platter, fish and chips, and shrimp and scallops platters should please the biggest fans of this form of cooking. On the pasta side, the lobster mac and cheese features Tratolle pasta, lobster, a three-cheese sauce blend and is topped with sherry seasoned bread crumbs. For dessert, the chocolate lava cake, creme brulee and banana bread are well received.

"My mom used to make banana cake with vanilla ice cream, so it's nice to bring something to the restaurant that we enjoyed when growing up," said Mike.

Burger from The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Mass.
Burger from The Charred Oak Tavern. Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.

Added Matt:
"We fill a need in Middleborough. For example, we don't serve pizza here. You have three places down the street that do that. We give people something additional here that they might not find locally -- like our bison meatloaf dish, fresh seafood, the whiskeys. We offer something unique, but people from outside the area are also now discovering us."

About humble beginnings, close-knit brothers and big ambitions

Hailing from coastal, working class Fairhaven, Mass., the Menard brothers loved growing up in their small town and the South Coast area of Massachusetts, in general. They dug their first quahogs at eight-years-old, later graduated Fairhaven High School and then attended and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in Dartmouth, Mass. (Matt with a degree in human resources, Mike in business finance and both earning honors) before heading to Florida to experience a "short term view of the area," according to Matt. The brothers wanted to be close to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. -- a place they had always loved -- and became employed as bartenders and in all facets of restaurant operations at local dining out places including Planet Hollywood.

You can never truly take coastal New England away from a local boy, however, so Matt and Mike came back to New England in 2007 to work various jobs until opening Regal Transportation in New Bedford in 2010. They still own the business, which offers non-emergency medical transportation
for those without their own vehicles.

"Yes, it gets busy with the transportation company and the restaurant, but we make both work," said Mike.

Mike said that because he and Matt are close brothers and worked at many of the same places of employment that a venture into co-owning their own restaurant seemed like a natural fit. The strong bond Matt and Mike experienced during childhood has clearly transitioned into adulthood -- the kind of brotherhood some are blessed to have and others could only hope for.

"It would feel more strange working at some other place without Matt," said Mike. "Matt and I have done so many things together growing up and working jobs at the same place."

Added Matt, "We are happy, optimistic and couldn't be happier doing what we are doing -- working with each other and with a bar and wait staff that is enthusiastic."

Behind the scenes at The Charred Oak Tavern

Out at the back parking lot of the restaurant, a gentleman named Lance drives in from New Bedford to deliver fresh fish. He knows the "ins and outs" of the New Bedford fishing and seafood scene and brings in fish straight from the source directly to The Charred Oak Tavern.

"We are spoiled coming from New Bedford," said Mike. "It's great that we have a guy at the fishing boats and bringing that seafood in straight from the boat. Sometimes, we will run of out a certain seafood dish at the restaurant and that just proves that it is fresh.  We don't store fish as we prepare it right away... We are from New Bedford, so we know what seafood is like. The fishermen are out there three, five, seven days, two weeks. We benefit by collecting the fish that was caught on the last day."

Fresh fish being brought in from New Bedford, Mass., to The Charred Oak Tavern in New Bedford, Mass.
Bringing in fresh fish straight from New Bedford.

In the kitchen, Puerto Rico native Manny Hernandez creates culinary magic. At just 25-years-old, Manny has been cooking with passion for many years and said that he "likes to cook everything." One of his favorites at The Charred Oak Tavern: The Carribean Bison Meatloaf with red bliss mashed potatoes, Cabernet mushroom gravy, shredded carrots, peanuts, and a hard boiled egg in the center.

"In my country, Puerto Rico, my mom used to make meatloaf with an egg in the middle," said Hernandez. "So, this dish that I make was inspired by her."

 In line with The Charred Oak Tavern's concept, Manny is adept at infusing whiskey into many of the dishes.

"Sometimes, chefs and owners don't see eye-to-eye with a concept," said Manny. "Here, we have the same vision. They (the Menards) are great to work for. I will be here a long time. I love it here!"

Manny works with precision and focus...

Chef Manny Hernandez works with precision in the kitchen at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, Massachusetts
Manny Hernandez working in the kitchen at The Charred Oak Tavern. Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.

But is willing to take on any bigger task in the kitchen without being overwhelmed...

Chef Manny Hernandez is presented the "Catch of the Day" at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleboro, mass.
Manny Hernandez and a big salmon.
Photo credit: The Charred Oak Tavern Facebook fan page.

Benjamin Perry works the bar at The Charred Oak Tavern and like others at the restaurant, knows a lot about drinks including, of course, whiskey. Intense but friendly and conversational, Perry seems like the consummate bartender -- one who can handle many tasks at once, work with knowledge and skill, and be able to interact with everyone from the construction worker to the high profile executive.

"I really enjoy working here," said Perry. "I worked for a corporate restaurant and it could be so cut throat. You can connect here so much more. The owners are great and you can take the time to get to know the community. I am glad I am here."

Benjamin Perry works the bar at The Charred Oak Tavern in Middleborough, Mass.
Benjamin Perry works the bar at The Charred Oak Tavern.

Balancing life, offering a great restaurant to the public at the same time

Even with a busy schedule and the thrill of following a passion, the Menard brothers will always find a way to prioritize family time. On this night, for example, Matt and Mike leave early to attend a family event. Matt and Katrin have two children, Mason, six, and Kyla, two. Mike was recently married to Sylvia, has a stepson Ayden, 13, and a child on the way.

Mike and Matt are clearly living the American Dream, but remain humble, authentic and lifelong students of their craft and life, in general, knowing that the educational process doesn't end after graduating school. Feeling equally blessed every day, Matt and Mike bring a strong set of values and good old-fashioned work ethic to The Charred Oak Tavern with the lucky recipients being the customers.

"My advice is to spend a lot of hours working, to have a dream, and to follow that dream," said Mike. "There are a lot of moving parts in running a restaurant. This is a sensitive industry and things can change. We make sure to never get lazy. This is a team and we, as owners, try to lead by example. We (as brothers) work well together and have worked at many of the same places. That, and close support from family and a great staff makes all the difference."

As the sun sets in downtown Middleborough, the sun rises, metaphorically speaking, at The Charred Oak Tavern where customers enjoy the fabulous food and drink and look forward to the restaurant's bright future as a cornerstone business in a historic central district with lots of upside.

"We love being here in Middleborough and waking up each day to work at the restaurant," said Mike. "Things are going well. You can hear the conversations at the restaurant about people enjoying what we offer. It's easy to have someone come in for the first time here. The trick is to make them want to come back again and again. We are doing that."

The Charred Oak Tavern is located at 57 Center St., Middleborough MA. Tel. 508-923-9034. Web site: Facebook fan page:

If you enjoyed this story on The Charred Oak Tavern, please share the graphic below on Pinterest. Thanks!

Be prepared to love the fresh seafood straight off the fishing boats in New Bedford, the whiskey bar and just about anything else at this cozy, rustic tavern in Middleborough, Mass., near Plymouth.

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