Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 4, 2002

Pub food gets a homegrown makeover at Tap-In.


Tap-In Grill & Pub

120 S Main, Grapevine. 817-329-3117. Mon-Sat 11am-noon, Sun noon-8pm. AE, DC, MC, V.

Tap-In is exactly what you’d expect from a grill and pub owned by the same folks who run the Grapevine Cigar and Tobacco Shop. Boutique bourbon, Angus burgers built the way you want ’em, and chicken-fried steak with gravy sweet and thick enough to clog any man’s arteries. This is a place designed for men, by men (even though it’s run by a woman; more on that later).

On any night, you’ll likely hear the Rolling Stones tumbling out of the sound system — but the music won’t be so loud that the voice of the person next to you will be muffled. And while most guys might not admit to caring about décor, a lot of thought was put into how this place looks. It manages to be traditional and trendy at the same time. Six tv’s permanently tuned to sports dot the walls, but you’ll probably affix your eyes on the Jane Peccarelli murals of the Tap-In logo and the labels of Delicato Vineyards and Dalmore Scotch. Pecan-wood paneling punctuates the hunter-green walls in a golf club atmosphere that is inviting rather than intimidating. There’s a tin ceiling over the bar, and that’s the only thing that separates the drinking area from the dining space — though on a packed night, it’s impossible to tell the drinkers from the diners; they’re all mixed together.

Kenny Wiles had just returned from a trip to Scotland when the owner of the shopping center in which the cigar store is located approached him and asked Wiles if he wanted to expand. Seems that the place next door, Charlie’s Café, was being vacated. Wiles talked it over with his wife, Anita Wiles, and the Tap-In began to take shape.

Anita said she’s very conscious of what the “boys” want on the menu; still, she keeps the grilled tuna and a fair selection of salads available. While the corn chowder wasn’t as good as my husband’s homemade (few are), the marinated chicken skewers, which came with honey-mustard sauce for dipping, were superb — moist and tangy with a smoky flavor. With six to a plate, they’re a meal in themselves.

Anita said high-quality products are key, and this may explain why the turkey-bacon melt with Swiss is so good. It’s sweetened by the honey-cured bacon and kept moist by the mound of turkey. And make sure you try the sweet-potato fries. Their sugary composition comes through just enough to make you want more, while their texture — heavier than a white potato fry — will keep you from eating too many. Chicken-fried steak (8.95) fills a 10-inch plate and comes with a choice of those sweet-potato fries, regular fries, baked potato, mashed potatoes, beer-battered onion rings, side salad, soup, steamed veggies, or fruit cup. This chicken-fried steak can compete with your mama’s — and you don’t have to clean the kitchen afterward. And while the Wings O’ Fire (5.95) and Ultimate Nachos (6.95) may not seem far removed from Chili’s or Bennigan’s fare, remember that there’s a difference between how a chain restaurant handles finger foods and how an independent eatery does. When Tap-In says spicy red sauce on the wings, they mean spicy — not “we took a poll at the marketing meeting in Toledo and voted on a level of spiciness which we feel most Americans will be comfortable with.”

Even though the place is called the Tap-In, there is no microbrewery on site. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of beer available. Arrogant Bastard Ale, according to Anita, is a favorite — if only for its name. A dark beer from San Diego, it goes well with the Tap-In’s fish and chips and makes you feel like you’re in Scotland. For wine, you can choose from six labels of red, six of white, or the house wines.

So far the live music on Friday and Saturday nights has varied from light rock to jazz to Texas blues. Everything on the menu is available to go, although why you would want to leave is beyond my imagination. If it gets a little crowded during the 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour on weeknights, you can stroll next door to the cigar store and hang out. And I figured out why Anita makes sure there’s plenty on the menu for the ladies: If you build an upscale guy bar, women are going to come. For someone with no food service on her résumé, Anita knows what she is doing.

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