16 May Pasadena Weekly: Glendale’s Chess Park Tavern Serves Up Good Times on Bustling Brand Boulevard
By Evelyn Garcia
Despite the April showers and May gray we’ve been experiencing the last couple of weeks, I have been more than ready to delve into warmer weather and enjoy lunches and dinners at picturesque restaurants. There’s nothing better than a glass of wine or a cocktail, a good meal and beautiful ambiance.
The recently opened Chess Park Tavern in Glendale, just up the street from The Americana on Brand, checks off all of those boxes, and more. They just opened their doors on bustling Brand Boulevard earlier this month, taking over the former chess park that housed 16 concrete tables topped with chess boards. Its unique theme, along with photos of the space, was enough to draw me in within the first week.
The evening I dined at Chess Park it was quite busy, and my dining companion and I were told if we wanted to be seated outside there was only one small table available facing the street. We didn’t mind, and I couldn’t help but find it surprising for a new restaurant on a Thursday afternoon. I quickly learned that the immediate appeal and likely factor in early buzz was the overall experience and ambiance of the trendy restaurant. It was dimly lit inside with a large bar at the center of the room. Waiters and bartenders were wearing 1920s era clothing, giving off a speakeasy vibe, and (my favorite part) a live band played in their main outdoor dining area.
While we were seated away from the commotion, we were never forgotten. In fact, within the first 10 minutes of being seated restaurant staff came up to us four times, which continued throughout the entirely of our meal. Once to greet us with menus, the next to bring over our waters, then the complimentary baked chips, and the last to refill the bit of water we had drunk up to that point. It’s difficult to be certain, but I don’t believe I have had a waiter or waitress who was more attentive than those at Chess Park Tavern. To start, we ordered the fried sweet chili cauliflower ($7) and an order of fries. The cauliflower was great and served with the perfect dipping sauces to balance out the sweetness.
There wasn’t a wide array of options on the menu in terms of entrees, but what they do feature are some of the best staple dishes that any restaurant could boast. I ordered the Grilled Mary’s Chicken twin slider bites made with romesco, arugula, cherry tomatoes and fontina cheese ($13). The sandwich was good, although I wished they would note on the menu that the chicken sliders are served on baguette bread and not the traditional miniature burger buns, as are the beef and short rib options. Or, perhaps, some pesto to moisten the bread and provide even more flavor would do the trick. My friend ordered the lobster ravioli ($14), one of their standout dishes on the menu, made with lobster, cherry sauce and tomato confit. To top it off, she had a glass of wine (of which there were plenty to choose from) and made for the perfect dinner as the sun began to set.
Other entrees that looked heavenly as they whisked by our table were the flatbreads, five to choose from ($12-$14). While there were only five dishes listed under main course (though there are plenty of other main course-worthy plates), they each hold their own to cater to an array of diners. This short list boasts Branzino fish, grilled chicken breast, lamb chops, pan roasted salmon, and tenderloin, all served with their respective sides of quinoa, potatoes, veggies, or greens ($16-19).
Chess Park Tavern also serves a hefty list of draft beers from the typical lagers to Golden Road IPA, Ballas Point Grapefruit Sculpin and Golden Road Hefeweizen. Cocktails include an Island Mule, their take on a mint julep called a Foothills Julep, and a Forgive and Fernet, made with fernet branca, lemon juice, orgeat, aloe and egg white, all $14.
A waiter earlier during our dinner came over with a tray and asked us “S’mores?” clearly mistakenly thinking we ordered the fluffy treat in his hands. We were honest and told him it wasn’t ours, but when our friendly server suggested dessert we pondered the other options: ice cream biscotti, key lime cake, or a berries tart, among others. It wasn’t a difficult choice. We went with the S’mores Dipm ($8), and if this doesn’t symbolize summer and warm weather, I don’t know what does. It is essentially a skillet of gooey s’mores topped with melted chocolate chunks and served with graham crackers for dipping on the side. While it was slightly difficult and messy to eat properly — as most s’mores are — it was undeniably delicious.
After the s’mores takedown I went to wash my hands and was motioned to walk through what seemed like an entirely different restaurant, although connected to Chess Park Tavern. I learned it is its own establishment, a pizza chain called Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria, and both have the same owner. Although they are housed under the same roof and share a restroom, they do a good job of differentiating one from the other.
Chess Park offers a community feel perhaps similar to that the chess players felt during tournaments and events at the park, only this one serves alcohol, live music and great dessert.
Chess Park Tavern
231 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale
Major Cards/Alcohol Served
Source: Pasadena Weekly