Steppin’ Out – Mighty Tavern (Fair Oaks)

For over a decade I have been writing about Carolyn Kumpe, who is now the Head Chef at Mighty Tavern, a fantastic, family friendly restaurant located at 9634 Fair Oaks Blvd., in Fair Oaks, which at the southwest corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. and New York Ave., about four tenths of a mile west of Sunrise Blvd.

I wrote about her first when she had Charlotte’s Bake Shoppe in the town of El Dorado, then as a culinary instructor in Sacramento and then when she had Charlotte’s Bakery and Café in Diamond Springs.

I found that her knowledge of cooking and baking is unbelievable and she gives you facts so fast you can hardly write them all down. Unlike the rest of us, she seems to remember everything she ever learned.

Chef Kumpe has a simple philosophy about cooking: “Use simple recipes and great ingredients, keep it fresh and support local businesses.”  It seems to work because everything I tasted at Mighty Tavern was outstanding; no, even better than that.

“I was working as a chef for a winery,” she said, “when I received a call from a friend named Joan Reid Lapuyade. She and  her business partner, ex-husband Dennis Lapuyade [it’s a long story…] had owned César, the popular tapas restaurant in Berkeley. Joan said that La Boheme [the French restaurant which had been at this location for many years] had closed and wanted my opinion on opening a new restaurant here. I told her ‘Go for it.’ About two months ago, after about three months of cleaning and painting, Mighty Tavern opened.”

I arrived at Mighty Tavern in mid-afternoon and was sitting at the bar having a glass of water when Chef Kumpe came out of the kitchen, gave me a hug and said, “Want the tour?”

They have two dining rooms, one of which is ideal for private banquets, along with a nice patio dining area (Party Deck they call it). As we proceeded into the kitchen, Kumpe rapidly pointed out things and introduced me to people, including Sous Chef and “Master of Meat,”Jason Azevedo.

“We call him that,” said Kumpe, “because he also owns Testa Duro Salumi, producing delicious cured meats, smoked meats, pates and more. We’ll give you samples of some, but right now he is fixing you something special that you are going to like.”

As I sat back down at the bar, Chef Kumpe looked at my stack of small note papers and said, “I will get you one of my notebooks, you will need it.” She was right.

Sous Chef Azevedo then came out of the kitchen with my first sample, their Bar Burger, which is served during happy hour (four until six, Tuesday through Friday). It is a quarter pound patty of ground hanger steak on a bun with beer-cheese sauce and house bacon. “I freshly grind the meat,” said Azevedo.

Hanger steak is prized for its flavor and freshly ground, seared and cooked rare was so delicious I took small bites to make it last. It has a taste you will remember fondly… forever.

My next dish to sample was the refreshing Heirloom tomato salad with arugula, goat feta, salsa verde and a sprinkling of grey salt. It was fresh and cooling and had many contrasting flavors and textures I really enjoyed.

“We like to prepare balanced dishes with playful flavors like sweet, salt and fat,” said Kumpe, adding, “we also use the freshest ingredients and cook in rice bran oil.

“Those tomatoes came from the Waldorf School, just down the street, and the feta from the Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. We also get produce from Rudolf Steiner College, which is also nearby, and I take fruit and veggie scraps to feed my chickens at home. In turn they provide us with really fresh eggs.”

Then I was presented with a plate of pate with dried cherries, some paper thin slices of Lomo, Spanish style cured pork loin, and fromage blanc, accompanied by freshly baked bread and some small pickles.

“Everything is house made,” said Kumpe, “except for those pickles. But we do make most of our own pickles, and even catsup. We make everything we can,” adding, “Jason’s  Lomo is new on the menu and people love it.” Well, I loved everything.

A few minutes later Sous Chef Azevedo brought me a sample of one of their signature dishes, Fried Chicken confit with watermelon salad. If I understand correctly, the chicken is prepared and cooked a day before and then flash fried in oil to crisp it up. The chicken was delicious and the minty and refreshing watermelon salad contrasted beautifully with it.

Finally the desserts: Upside-down Key Lime pie and Triple chocolate pudding with whipped cream and a chocolate shortbread cookie, shaped as their logo, a rooster (ask about the story behind it). Like everything else, the flavor of these desserts was brilliant. A perfect ending for a meal.

When I told her how much I loved the desserts, Chef Kumpe, who when complemented on being an excellent chef during a recent interview said, “We have lots of excellent chefs here,” brought out their Pastry Chef, Amalia Quintanilla, to meet me. “She is from El Salvador and very talented as a baker and pastry chef,” said Kumpe. “We are delighted to have her as a part of our collaborative culinary team.”

They define their food as “Contemporary American Tavern Fare,” I define it as unique, delicious and worthy of a trip to try it. You can check out the menu at www.mightytavern.com

Mighty Tavern is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 5p.m.-9:30 p.m., and Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Closed Monday. Full bar and large local wine and beer list. Dress: very casual. For reservations call (916) 241-9444.

Oh, try the Mighty Burger. I didn’t, but will next time. Yes, it actually looks like the picture on their webpage.

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