Neighborhood taverns definitely have their place, and for many it's an important one.
As great as it can be to hit the trendy or upscale eateries to get the latest in fine culinary fare, sometimes you want to go someplace where you can count on a certain consistency and, if you're lucky, quality that goes far beyond the standard fare.
While recently searching for just such a place, we discovered something that the residents of Odessa have known for years. There's a gem of a neighborhood tavern at the end of The Village Shoppes on Gunn Highway.
G Peppers Grill & Tavern is not going to blow you away with trendy décor or upscale trappings. Rather, it has sort of a half diner, half pub feel to it that we admit we kind of liked. Patrons enter through a small lobby. Go left and you're at a room with a pool table and, beyond that, a full bar area. To the right is the dining room.
We went right. There's about six booths and 15 tables, bad wood paneling, and some utilitarian green carpeting. The dining room is adorned, somewhat incongruously, with banners from Florida schools hanging from the ceiling and scenes from beaches on the wall, along with other sports images.
You won't care. G Peppers isn't the sort of place you visit for the ambience. You go for the friendly service and good food. The people of Odessa get it: during our visits the place was packed, mainly with families. Half the flat screens were showing sports, the other half a game show — both with the sound down so you could have dinner conversation. As our meal progressed, the families finished and vacated and the next seating was predominately older couples.
The wait staff was attentive and friendly, quick with drink refills or removing empty plates.
The menu is typical sports bar fare dominated with wings and burgers. The atypical part is the dinner specials, which change frequently. On a recent Saturday night we had the grilled flank steak salad. Clean, crisp baby greens mixed with ripe grape tomato halves and diced purple onion served as a base for roasted rosemary potato wedges, crumbled bacon, and slices of seasoned grilled flank steak with a blue cheese, horseradish and bacon dressing on the side. The combination of textures like the soft potatoes and crispy bacon and the variety of flavors, from the tart tomatoes to the smoky beef, made this a memorable salad and the envy of the table.
The BBQ Burger was a hand-formed patty, available in quarter or half-pound size, cooked to order and smothered in G Peppers' sweet and smoky barbecue sauce, topped with cheddar and bacon and served with a side of big, fat steak fries. The hamburger was juicy and the fries crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
The wings were more typical, but were hot and spicy so no one complained. A moist and meaty steak hoagie featured sliced rib eye, grilled onions and mozzarella.
For an excellent idea of the sort of culinary surprises you might find at G Peppers, check out the list of "dinner specials previously served" on the restaurants website at www.gpeppers.com. The restaurant also has weekday lunch specials for $6, such as the Wednesday meatloaf special with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and garlic toast.
Another atypical aspect from most taverns is that the desserts are homemade. We had a sinful Rocky Road Cake like your mama used to make (mine, anyway) — a moist chocolate sheet cake topped with marshmallows and chocolate fudge icing. Even better was the Maple Bourbon Sunday, which was vanilla ice cream topped with a maple bourbon sauce, whipped cream and Spanish peanuts.
If only every neighborhood tavern served fare as interesting as this one. Until your neighborhood gets one, we recommend checking out G Peppers. The only people who might mind are the Odessa residents who might have to wait for a table.
G Peppers Grill & Tavern
Bottom Line: Routine pub fare combined with brilliant daily specials
Where: 8745 Gunn Hwy., Odessa, 33556
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Children's Menu: Yes
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Price: Entrees range from $6.50 to $12
Contact: (813) 920-3439