On Ruian Street (瑞安街) near Da-an Forest Park (大安森林公園), several Western-style dining establishments have opened and helped to transform the area into a site of budget-dining. Enter from Heping East Road (和平東路) and you will first meet The Diner. Then there are a couple of cafes that are popular with families on weekends, a French-style patisserie and chef Jason’s relaxed burger joint My Place.
For diners who fancy a couple of drinks and some hearty pub grub, a good choice is Sterling Tavern, a bar-cum-restaurant offering not only your usual chicken wings and French fries but plenty of comfort food made with family recipes.
By family, I mean American expat John Diedrichs, the tavern’s owner, who makes many of the dishes from scratch with either his mother’s or his own recipes. My first taste of Diedrichs’ home cooking occurred on a recent Sunday when my dining companion and I went there for an early dinner and were just in time for the chef‘s baked cornbread (NT$80 per serving), fresh out of the oven. Served with a globe of butter, it has a slightly sweet flavor because it contains brown sugar and honey. And as Diedrichs says, you cannot have cornbread without butter. The two were truly a pair made in heaven.
Following the cornbread, we ordered some American classics. The first item that arrived on our table was the chili soup (NT$130). It was a hearty combination of chopped onions, tomatoes, kidney beans and shredded cheese with several indispensable drops of Tobasco sauce adding a toothsome punch.
For the main dishes, we ordered the macaroni and cheese (NT$150) and a sloppy joe (NT$90). Diedrichs’ rendition of mac and cheese blends five kinds of cheeses including Swiss, Parmesan and Mozzarella. As for the sandwich, it was every bit as yummy as its reputation as the all-time children’s favorite. Served on a properly toasted hamburger bun, the filling was a sweet and spicy combination of ground beef, onions, cheese, tomato sauce and lots of herbs. Diedrichs says he makes the seasoning mix himself, after countless trials and errors, to get the taste just right. Bacon can be added to the already messy delight for an extra NT$20.
The menu also features a variety of Mexican food including the beef tacos (NT$110), quesadillas (NT$120) and beef enchiladas (NT$150). There is also a selection of Panini sandwiches ranging from the Rueben with smoked beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese (NT$90 for a half and NT$180 for a whole) to the Panini with your choice of meat including chicken, tuna and salmon with onions, peppers, cheese and mustard dressing (NT$90 for a half and NT$170 for a whole).
The vegetarian Panini costs NT$70 for a half serving and NT$130 for whole. Vegetarians can also opt for the bar’s all-you-can-eat salad bar (NT$120; NT$90 for take-out).
For an extra NT$100, patrons can make a main dish into a set meal that includes a single serving of the salad bar, fries, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies and coffee or tea.
Atmosphere-wise, the tavern somewhat reflects its owner’s personality: laid-back, relaxed and with a penchant for the classics. When we were there, the choice of music included classic rock, while Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and George Lucas’ American Graffiti were both playing on the television.
The tavern sports a decent selection of beer ranging from Heineken (NT$120), Boddingtons (NT$180) to Fuller’s (NT$200). A variety of cocktails (NT$80 to NT$250) are also available. Judging from the Gin Tonic (NT$150) and Apple Martini (NT$150) we had, Sterling Tavern serves really honest drinks. So boozers be warned.