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The Tavern by George Martin review: Rockville Centre gastropub offers oversized portions, erratic service

James Cavorti, executive chef of The Tavern by George Martin in Rockville Centre, on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, talked about the process of making the restaurant's popular skirt steak dish. (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

The Tavern by George Martin

13 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre

516-678-1290, gmtavern.com

COST: $$-$$$

SERVICE: Erratic

AMBIENCE: A brick-lined room with the requisite gastropub touches, plus comfy leather booths

ESSENTIALS: Open for dinner Monday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday 3 to 11 p.m., brunch and dinner on Sunday 11 a.m.

It sounded delicious on paper: a filet mignon club sandwich layered with bacon. When it arrived at the table, though, the tower of meat and thick-cut bread had already toppled over. As I wrangled with it, a slice of steak slithered off the plate and onto my lap.

The dishes can be mammoth and on trend at The Tavern at George Martin — street tacos, poke, lots of bacon — but size isn’t the only thing that matters.

The latest George Martin restaurant opened on North Park Avenue in Rockville Centre earlier this fall. Its lineage is complex: The Tavern is a resurrection of a short-lived place called GM Club Steak, which itself was a reincarnation of the decade-old Grillfire.

GM Club Steak closed this summer and was reborn a few days (!) later with a new name, a lengthier menu and prices kicked down a few notches. The gastropub vibe remained: a long, loud, brick-lined room that begins with a bar and ends in cozy red-leather booths.

Once seated, you may be welcomed with a cast-iron pan of cornbread and Parker house rolls, delivered (at least one night) with a thunk by a server who didn’t glance down as he rushed by. The cornbread was moist and speckled with chewy kernels, but the skillet was cold and the rolls were stale. On another visit, the skillet never materialized.

That unpredictable service was a theme. Cocktails — a pumpkin martini and a cider margarita, both boozy but lacking flavor, somehow — arrived after appetizers. That same night, servers continually tried to remove dishes that were still being nibbled. During another, a slow Monday, food took its time appearing from the kitchen, with varying degrees of warmth.

The tavern’s lengthy menu seems designed with something for everyone: steaks for the indulgent, poke for the virtuous, plus many cosseting starters that meet the fryer. Gooey Cheddar-cauliflower tots blend nostalgia with ooze. Hot house potato chips are addictive. Eclipsing both are garlicky, barely glazed Brussels sprouts roasted to a coppery crisp. However, both chicken wings and chimichurri steak tacos suffered from dryness.

Steak and potatoes are the undercurrent of the menu, and the kitchen handles both deftly. At $27, a 7-ounce espresso-rubbed skirt steak had a charred crust and rosy insides — a standout.

The colossal cheeseburger, though hard to wrap a mouth around, tasted luxe, even if its shoestring fries were tepid.

Other main courses never quite jelled. Baby back ribs were pale, matte and tentatively seasoned, but decent enough when slathered in barbecue sauce. Veins of bacon couldn’t salvage a dry meatloaf, though its bed of mashed potatoes was like velour. A heap of short ribs braised in root beer tasted more like gravy-slathered brisket, and came on a tiny plate that rendered them joyless to eat. The mustard “glaze” atop a cedar-plank salmon (served on a plate) looked and tasted like an accidental splash of something that didn’t belong.

This rich fare should find its foil in the au-courant poke menu, but here it feels like a meat eater’s conception of what healthy people like to eat: a mostly undressed tumble of greens, sliced avocado and (in this case) ahi tuna. The portion of fish was generous, though, as it should be for $24.50.

Desserts are a hit-or-miss pursuit; the best was a pumpkin cheesecake nestled against spice-dusted whipped cream. Deconstructed Nutella crepes were puzzling to put together, and a messy, overlarge bowl of blood-orange sorbet was drizzled with caramel. An odd bookend to an uneven meal.

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