Old concepts are new at the new King’s Tavern
King’s Tavern is the oldest standing building in Natchez, and its newest incarnation is preparing food in a way that is a throwback to earlier times — using a wood-fired oven and ingredients grown on-site.
In the kitchen is a domed brick oven fired with oak wood supplied by one of the tavern’s employees, and in the courtyard between the tavern building and the former bar is a garden growing arugula, spinach and baby mustards, among other things.
Other ingredients are locally sourced, including handcrafted mozzarella from Liberty which restaurant owner Regina Charboneau described as being “like butter.” The seafood ingredients are wild-caught and certified as coming from a sustainable population.
“We utilize the farm-to-table concept, and we are very dedicated to the idea of hand-crafted food,” Charboneau said.
That means nothing deep-fried and salads aren’t overdressed.
“You don’t need an overwhelming amount of cheese when you have quality ingredients, and a little bit of bacon can go a long way,” Charboneau said.
The restaurant does not offer to-go orders, because to-go orders necessitate rushing and affect the quality of the food.
The menu, on the whole, is simple, with seafood items such as oven-roasted oysters in a black pepper marinade and specialty pizzas, including peppered brisket with caramelized onions and a horseradish cream, the smoked tomato and shrimp and the Brussels sprouts with smoked bacon.
Among the desserts offered are crème brulée pineapple parfait and a ginger snap crust filled with house-made dark chocolate ice cream topped with a bourbon flavored, sweetened cream cheese.
The pizza items are sold as “oven-fired flatbreads,” Charboneau said, because the restaurant wanted to get away from people’s preconceived notions of what makes a pizza.
Inspired by a specialty kitchen in New York, Charboneau set out to make the perfect dough using Italian flour.
“With the flatbread, the dough is so important and so good, and my mission was to get a dough that good,” she said. “I tested a lot of flours before I got it just like I wanted it.”
After hiring chef Allison Richard — a graduate of John Folse’s culinary program who has worked in New Orleans and France — Charboneau collaborated with Richard to develop the flatbread offerings.
Richard likes to build the fire in the brick oven herself, and said the optimum temperature for cooking the flatbread is 800 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, it doesn’t take the flatbread long to bake, and she’ll stick her head into the opening of the oven from time to time to watch the dough bubble.
“At peak temperature it really only takes a couple of minutes to cook because in the brick oven it is like you are cooking on a flat top and with a broiler all at once,” Richard said. “You are getting a lot of different types of heat at the same time.”
Outside the kitchen, the tavern’s bar — run by craft cocktail master Ricky Woolfolk — focuses on making drinks using only in-house ingredients, including the tonic water. The liquors used are from small batch distilleries.
On the second floor of the tavern will be a craft liquor store, something Charboneau said would be tied to the experience of dining at the revamped King’s Tavern.
“We are hoping that, as people come in and we turn them on to these craft liquors, they will want to purchase them for themselves and share them with others,” she said.
The tavern will also offer mixology classes on weekends, tickets for which can be purchased at the tavern or at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours for $35.
The bar itself was made from re-purposed bourbon casks and installed during the remodel of the building, which Charboneau said was in need of significant work after sitting empty for two years.
The Tavern building, built circa 1789, came to Charboneau when her husband, Doug, wanted to purchase the former King’s Tavern bar to house a small-batch rum distillery. The restaurant and bar — opened in the late 1980s — had closed in February 2012. The Tavern had to be purchased as a part of the property.
Tentative plans for the distillery are to open in April.
“We wanted to give the building a fresh look and still keep the integrity of the building,” Charboneau said. “It’s from an earlier time that most of the buildings in Natchez, and it is so different feeling but still authentically Natchez, and we were glad to be able to save this building.”
King’s Tavern is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
It will also be open for lunch on the Tuesdays the American Queen docks in Natchez.