Nicholson’s Tavern & Pub
625 Walnut St.
Located directly across the street from the main entrance to the Aronoff Center, this Scottish-themed pub sees a lot of theatre traffic. We hadn’t realized there was a matinee performance scheduled on the day we visited the restaurant and were turned away from being seated in the dining area because we didn’t have a reservation. I didn’t know they took lunch reservations, nor did I think they would be needed. Ah well.
Luckily the bar area was not yet filled up with theatre-goers grabbing a last-minute lunch (or drink) and we managed to score some seating along the wall of the pub. It wasn’t an ideal place to sit because my husband, father-in-law and I had to sit next to each other on a long bench instead of being able to sit across from one another, which made it difficult to carry on a conversation. Long, narrow tables are secured to the floor in front of the benches, incapable of being moved to suit the diner’s needs. The design worked out ok for my husband and father-in-law but I found myself perching on the edge of the bench in order to shorten the distance my fork had to travel. Being petite has its disadvantages, I suppose.
Nicholson’s has an excellent selection of draught beer, single malt Scotch and bourbons. My father-in-law was surprised to see English favorites like Old Speckled Hen, Whitbread Ale and Young’s Oatmeal Stout on tap, and chuckled pleasantly when he learned they also stock Dry Blackthorn Cider. Our kilted server knew his beer and brought samples for us to try. If you go, get a pint of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout instead of dessert. It’s full of chocolaty, beery goodness.
I was disappointed to find that there isn’t a single vegetarian entrée listed on the menu. Nicholson’s is part of the locally-owned Tavern Restaurant Group, which also operates The Pub at Rookwood, The Pub at Crestview Hills, deSha’s and The Polo Grille, so I was surprised that they didn’t have anything vegetarian on their menu when the other restaurants in the group do. When I mentioned this to our server he told me that although it isn’t stated on the menu, the Roasted Chicken Penne could be made sans chicken as a vegetarian dish. Truthfully though, whenever I see a menu without anything vegetarian it sends up a warning flag to me that the restaurant isn’t veggie-savvy and that the kitchen might think that picking the chicken out of a cream sauce makes the dish vegetarian. Maybe I am wrong to think this way, but after 20+ years of dealing with the after effects of dishes that contained non-vegetarian stock, I’m naturally a little wary.
The restaurant does list a few appetizers that probably would have been ok – oven-baked goat cheese, spinach and artichoke dip, and fried pickles – but I opted instead for a salad and a side of fries, which I figured would guarantee vegetarianism. The Tavern House Salad consisted of mixed greens, red onion, dried cherries, toasted almonds and crumbled stilton topped with a creamy basil vinaigrette. It was very tasty indeed. The fries, eh, not so much. They were simply your garden variety frozen steak fries, available at supermarkets everywhere. I hit ‘em with some salt and malt vinegar to make them palatable.
I’d like to offer Nicholson’s (and the Tavern Group in general) a suggestion for a good, authentic vegetarian option that is hugely popular in U.K. pubs: The Ploughman’s Lunch. This simple and delicious option consists of a large chunk of cheese (usually Stilton or Cheddar), a thick wedge of crusty bread with butter, a small salad, a pickled onion and a sliced apple. It’s easy to prepare, healthy and incredibly filling. Best of all, it can be made with items the restaurant already stocks. Why they haven’t yet thought of it is mystifying.