It wasn’t the food that brought me back to the Trion Tavern this time.
It wasn’t that my memories of meals there weren’t good, it was just that an addition to this New Haven landmark had me really excited. The Trion now claims to have Northern Indiana’s largest tap selection of craft beers, and although I can’t verify that, I can tell you its offerings are the most I have ever seen.
Thanks to a state-of-the-art cooling system, the Trion has 45 domestic, imported and microbrewed beers on tap daily. Everything from sweet ciders to dark stouts to good old American classic light lagers can be found, and small sampler servings of five are available for those who want to try more than one without needing a designated driver.
I asked to have the bartender create my samplers, and both times I was rewarded with a diverse, interesting mix.
Some of the most unique were the Wyder’s Pear Cider, which was clear and crisp and tasted more like 7Up than beer; the New Holland Dragons Milk, a bourbon barrel-aged strong ale that had a lot of bourbon flavor; and the Magic Hat Wacko, which looked more like sparkling wine with its purple-red hue and which had a sweet, smooth, fruity flavor.
But my trip to Trion wasn’t all barley and hops; there were plenty of tavern favorites on the menu to go with the beer, such as the chili-cheese fries.
A tasty pile of crispy fries was coated with the tavern’s homemade chili, which was thick, dark and rich. It had plenty of ground beef and just the right amount of beans, and it was pretty mild. This brownish-red soup sort of reminded me of Coney sauce, and it would have been great on a hot dog.
Shredded cheddar and chopped onions finished the appetizer, and there was just enough of each so they were garnishes and not main components. The Franziskaner Hefe-Weiss German wheat beer was great with the fries as its light, somewhat lemony flavor really offset the heartiness of the chili.
My smothered burger was great when paired with a more intense brew, such as the Mound Builder India Pale Ale, a new addition to the Trion’s lineup from People’s Brewing Co. of Lafayette. This amber-colored American-style IPA was hoppy but smooth, and its full flavor was great with the sweet caramelized onions and peppers, earthy mushrooms and salty Swiss that topped the burger. The vegetables were cooked just right, the burger was big and beefy, and the bun was soft and moist.
Trion has a variety of barbecue offerings on the menu, which always go nicely with a cold beer. The ribs in the chicken and ribs dinner were decent tavern-style ribs with tender meat that still had some pull and a sweet sauce with a little zip. The chicken was not barbecued, however; it was broasted. It had crisp breading, and the meat was super moist, but that breading was kind of bland.
The Pig Sandwich was probably the best meal I had. This behemoth of a pulled pork sandwich did not have much smoke flavor, but the meat was tender and really tasted like a good pork roast. It didn’t need much sauce to make it fantastic.
The beers I liked best with the barbecue were the Delirium Nocturnum, a Belgian strong dark ale that had spiced fruit overtones, and the New Belgian 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, a somewhat dry dark with some coffee notes.
The only beers I didn’t enjoy were the Dark Horse Fore Smoke Stout, which tasted, well, kind of like a dirty ashtray, and the Goose Island Sophie, which was sour and had too high a carbonation level.
I also didn’t care for the taco salad, which was basically a small portion of iceberg lettuce in a shell with seasoned meat and cheese on top and a side of mediocre salsa. It needed more lettuce and could have used some fresh diced tomatoes and onions to liven it up.
The dinner salad of iceberg, cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes also flopped, especially when compared with the great potato soup I could have had instead at the Trion. Each bowl is made to order and topped with a little cheese and bacon crumbles. It was rich and buttery and full of big chunks of skin-on red potatoes.
The Trion Tavern does not offer dessert, so the last beer I will suggest could double as dessert – the New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale. This murky brew with a scant head had a distinct caramel aroma from the roasted malt, and that scent carried through to the flavor, which also had some hints of coffee and, perhaps, brown sugar.
Restaurant: Trion Tavern
Address: 503 Broadway St., New Haven
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking status: Smoking throughout except for family room
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Beer sampler ($8 for five 4-ounce servings); chili cheese fries ($6.79), smothered burger ($6.99), chicken and ribs ($14.99), Pig Sandwich ($5.99), taco salad ($6.99), potato soup ($3.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (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).