Tennessee Tavern is a kitschy bar with an Eastern European menu, heavyweight drink list, and a long and storied history. It’s now owned by Grant van Gameren, Alec Colyer, and Max Rimaldi.
A menu that reads “Tennessee Open Grill” featuring two-dollar steaks hangs in the front entrance as a reminder that this place first opened in the 1950s. It was Mitzi’s Sister for a long time before being converted to The Sister, then a different, shadier version of the Tennessee for a while.
There’s always been a stage that could host live music, and the new Tennessee Tavern is upping its game by having DJ acts and the like in.
Hundred-year-old bar tables dot the spacious room. The back bar is from a Polish steelworkers bar, and the middle bar is from The Roxton, both originally from 1800s Buffalo.
The action of a back patio revolves around a giant birdcage from Smash.
Cucumber salad with Bulgarian feta cream ($7.95) is dressed with bitter caraway and dill. The cool bitterness helps balance out other heavy, fatty parts of the menu.
A big pretzel with yellow mustard ($7.95) and pickles is perfect for sharing, soft with a crackly lacquered crust and hunks of salt.
A mixed pepperette cup ($9) also embraces the small plate/sharing/bar snack attitude, with mild and quite spicy pork as well as beef dry whips.
The smoked fish plate ($27.95) is a platter of smoky and juicy salmon, trout, mackerel, and slightly lighter-tasting eel (head included) served with pita, pickled onion, sour cream and caper berries.
Cevapi ($12.95) are a traditional zesty Balkan sausage, served in typical fashion with pita, a roasted red pepper ajvar spread, cheesy kajmak and raw onion.
Pierogis ($6.95 for six, $11.95 for 12, $22.25 for 24) are an amazingly comforting meal for one or snack to share, stuffed with cheese and potato and topped with crunchy bacon and fried onions.
Cabbage rolls ($12.95) are a comfort classic too, pork, beef, bacon and rice wrapped in slightly bitter cabbage leaves, soaked in a sweeter tomato sauce and liberally topped with sour cream.
The massive Tennessee Platter ($39.95) comes with cevapi, perfect veal schnitzel, Debracyna sausage, sweet wood smoked pork, a spicy carrot salad and horseradish cream eggs.
An extensive bar list features nitro draft, amaro, rakija, absinthe and whiskey. There's also a wine list replete with hard-to-find options from Eastern Europe.
A “Smoked Fish Appetizers” neon sign is from the movie Hairspray.
The space drips with crosses, mini liquor bottles, and chandeliers, and the music is a mix of blues, rock n’ roll, and horn bands. The bathroom is Instagrammably custom graffiti’d with a Czech whiskey drinking song. All these elements combine to make this a truly Canadian tavern.