PICTURED: Grown Up Grilled Cheese, with havarti, goudar and cheddar cheese, bacon, tomatoes and garlic butter. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
The Raven Tavern
1651 Victoria Ave., Oxnard
Oxnard has something new to crow about.
The Raven Tavern, a stylish gastropub that opened over the summer, features a roomy location, a large menu that goes beyond pub basics, a nice bar with a decent tap selection (including its own label) and a very handsome black bird for its logo. It cuts a fine figure in the Seabridge Marina Center, and with a spacious patio, it made a name for itself while outdoor dining was allowed — despite the difficulties that must have come about from opening during a pandemic.
It’s all takeout and curbside pickup these days (DoorDash will deliver if you’re in the neighborhood), but if you like classic meat and potato dishes with a gourmet twist, you’ll be happy to pop by for dinner to go. There are plenty of sandwiches, burgers, salads and entrees to choose from, inspired by — but not limited to — the food found in taverns and public houses on “both sides of the Atlantic.” With that in mind, the Supper Club options are probably the best deals: entrees, two sides and soup or salad — enough to feed four people in your family or quarantine pod.
In keeping with the English/Irish/Eastern U.S. influence, there are things like roast chicken, salmon, braised short ribs, seafood chowder and Maryland crab cakes. It all sounded great, but I gravitated toward something I don’t see on every menu: savory pies. The Raven Tavern boasts four styles: steak and mushroom, Cornish chicken, vegetarian and shepard’s. These come in hand pie and dinner pie versions, and are available as part of a Dinner Pie Pack with mashed potatoes and salad — which I ordered for my hungry crew. And, just because it intrigued me, I threw in the Grown Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich as well.
Driving in to pick up my order, I was greeted by a friendly person behind the counter who had everything neatly and securely laid out in a large cardboard box and a big bag. Noticing a sign for “Cocktails To Go,” I threw in a Joe’s Old Fashioned — a special concoction using Raven Tavern’s own orange peel-infused bourbon, brown sugar and bitters.
After getting everything home, two things became very clear: We had way more food than we needed (the Caesar salad alone was enormous), and everything was delicious.
Of the crusted pies, I probably liked the steak and mushroom the best — it had the richest flavor, with chunks of tender beef, mushroom and carrots. The veggie pie was good — it was full of perfectly prepared, tender-crisp veggies in a light curry sauce — but needed more punch. Additional curry and spice would have probably made this my favorite. It’s true that the chicken pie was on the mellower side, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily — the mild, creamy sauce was lovely if simple, and would definitely appeal to tamer palates. Judging purely by appearance, the pie crust was beautiful — golden brown, flaky at the surface. After cutting into it, however, it was a bit thick and doughy. Not a dealbreaker, mind you . . . but we found ourselves setting hunks of crust aside as we ate. The shepard’s pie was the overall favorite. Well-seasoned ground beef and vegetables in a tasty gravy with the creamiest potatoes on top…yum!
The other standout was the added-at-the-last-minute grilled cheese. In a word: wow. Gouda, havarti and cheddar, grilled to creamy goodness with tomatoes, bacon and garlic butter — all on a nice, thick bread that was speckled golden brown and a bit crispy. I could feel my arteries clogging up with every bite…but what wonderful bites those were. The French onion soup on the side was pretty good, too.
I was very happy with my impulse-buy old fashioned. It was enormous and beautifully prepared; not too sweet with a hint of orange and a gentle bite of bitters that enhanced the bourbon. Also available from the bar: the fruity Hollywood Beach and Snow Cone, a spicy margarita and other craft libations. The Raven Tavern can only offer to-go cocktails when a bartender is onsite, so call ahead of time to see if it’s an option.
Everything else — including Supper Club combinations, beer and wine — are very easy to order online. Sandwiches start around $12; most entrees are $20-$30; meal deals are $60-$110. So . . . not a budget dining experience. But the food is really good, and the combinations are well thought out and generous; we had plenty of leftovers and felt as though our money went far.
The Raven Tavern has a lot going for it, and I hope Oxnard’s fine feathered friend will continue to soar above the complications of this chaotic time.