It certainly looked like one of those old, small-town taverns with its dim lighting, horseshoe-shaped bar packed with regulars and the tacky, out-of-style tables and studded chairs.
But Don Halls’ Canal Tap Haus has only been open in New Haven for two years. Next to the Commissary restaurant in its former banquet room, it felt like one of those old taverns with its friendly and a bit sassy servers, its no-nonsense menu and the buzz coming from those regulars. It is smoky as New Haven doesn’t have a no-smoking ordinance, but there is a decent patio out front that allows you to escape it if you want.
The first thing I tried seemed to fit the surroundings, an old-school, seldom-seen treat – chicken gizzards. Fried up crisp and served with thin-cut fries and a house dipping sauce of ranch dressing mixed with barbecue sauce, this appetizer would be a good-sized meal for most as there was a huge pile of gizzards. And those gizzards were mild, almost so mild you didn’t know they were gizzards, which made one of my dining companions a little miffed. But not me, I loved the lack of aftertaste and gobbled down plenty.
The Tap Haus Cheese Fries were just as satisfying. Thick potato wedges were enrobed with melted cheddar and bacon and flanked by a container of that same house sauce. There was so much cheese, that it stretched apart like it would on pizza, and the bacon was of good quality.
The most interesting appetizer, however, fell flat. The Reuben egg rolls were a greasy mess; so greasy they left a puddle on the plate. Considering these three little rolls were stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut, which are not exactly timid ingredients, I was also shocked that the only real flavor came from the Thousand Island dressing on the side.
The Memphis Two Fister burger had more than enough flavor. A half-pound ground chuck burger was topped with barbecued pulled pork, cheddar, coleslaw and a little Sriracha hot sauce. The slaw and barbecue were rather sweet, but the cheese and fire from the hot sauce kept this from being too sweet.
The rib-eye sandwich was less exotic, but better. Served open-faced on Texas toast, the meat was super tender and nicely seasoned. It had a side of terribly salty au jus that I tried just once because it would have just ruined what was already a perfect piece of nicely marbled beef, so I just stuck to a little horseradish on mine.
The most uniquely prepared sandwich was the roasted chicken club – chicken, bacon, lettuce, tomato and garlic mayo – which hardly sounds exciting. But the top layer of French bread on this sandwich was coated in Parmesan cheese that was melted on the griddle to form a crust. The crunch and salty flavor of the cheese was brilliant when combined with the other ingredients.
The sandwich I was most excited to try, the Razorback, proved to be the most disappointing. This butterflied pork tenderloin was pan fried and served on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo. The breading was not seasoned and added no flavor and the pan-frying process did not make it crispy, so it was just boring.
The best side was the pit beans, which were sweet and tangy. The macaroni and cheese was really bland and boring upon first taste, but after I dug down to the bottom of the cup where the good stuff was and stirred it up, it became creamy, cheesy and pretty darn tasty.
The service was OK, but not exceptional. More than once I struggled to get my busy server’s attention, and when sitting on the patio, I definitely felt disconnected. But that is where I would have to sit again to avoid the smoke.
Restaurant: Don Hall’s Canal Tap Haus
Address: 216 Indiana 930 W., New Haven
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Smoking throughout
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Cheese fries ($5.49), Reuben egg rolls ($3.99), gizzards ($5.99), chicken club ($6.99), Memphis burger ($6.99), Razorback ($6.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).