I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I probably visited the new Tyler's in Apex half a dozen times before I even noticed the seasonal menu. In my defense, most of those times I wasn't there to eat. I was there -- strictly in the line of duty, of course -- to check out the draft beer selection. It's not my fault that the place is less than 10 minutes from my home.
I'm pleased to report that, with some 80 brews on tap, the newest Tyler's more than lives up to the reputation established by the original pub in Carrboro (32 taps) and reinforced by the second, larger location in Durham (60 taps) as the area's premier destination for hopheads. The regularly changing offering of seasonal and specialty beers alone lists some two dozen options, including rarities you won't find elsewhere in North Carolina.
The selection is so good, in fact, that I had come to think of Tyler's as a place to hoist a couple of pints and maybe shoot a little pool in The Speakeasy, a combination lounge/game room that adjoins the pub. The food -- nachos, wings, burgers and the like -- was decent pub grub, but not the main attraction. If I ordered anything, it was usually the hand-cut garlic fries, a reliable beer-quaffing companion.
Then, early one evening recently, I found myself sitting at the bar in Apex, my previously scheduled dinner plans at another restaurant canceled. Content to stay where I was and continue my research, I ordered the blackened salmon salad. Then I absent-mindedly tossed the menu onto the bar. Face down.
And there it was, on the back page. Under the heading of "Tyler's Seasonal Specials" were a couple of appetizers and half a dozen entrees ranging from bratwurst braised in Highland Gaelic Ale to dried porcini-and herb-rubbed steak frites to pan-seared cod with gnocchi, butternut squash, grilled artichokes and a roasted tomato beurre blanc. I knew I would be back soon.
But not before I did a little research. Turns out, owner Tyler Huntington and his partners, Rob Stover and Daniel Kulenic, hired a couple of chefs with some serious culinary credentials during the past year. Executive chef Matt Romatzick, who comes to Tyler's from Azure Grille, is in charge of the kitchens in Apex and Carrboro. New Zealand native Matt Hardner is chef at the Durham location. The seasonal menus at all three are similar, the chief difference being that the Durham menu typically includes a couple of items from its smoker, and the other two offer a pizza from their wood-fired ovens.
My next visit to Tyler's in Apex got off to a splendid start with a salad of field greens dressed in an apple cider and sourwood honey vinaigrette, topped with candied walnuts and a hash of sweet potatoes and caramelized onion. An appetizer offering of chicken and portobello ravioli was also satisfying if not as memorable as the salad.
The pan-seared cod lived up to its tantalizing description, as did the accompanying sides. The bratwurst was so plump and succulent that juices squirted out when my fork pierced the skin. Caraway-speckled sauerkraut, crispy potato cakes and a cucumber salad in a German-style creamy-sweet dressing completed the Oktoberfest-on-a-plate presentation.
The brats are no longer on the seasonal menu, but I'll wager that the grilled Eco Farm pork chop that replaced them will provide ample solace. I can say that with confidence because I sampled the chop on a subsequent visit to the Durham Tyler's. Thick and juicy, properly tinged with a hint of pink, all the bone-in chop needed was a touch of salt to bring out all its porky goodness.
The house-smoked beef brisket, on the other hand, didn't need a thing. I'd drive all the way to Durham again, just to get my lips around that smoky, fatty-licious goodness.
Still, I'm thrilled that there's now a Tyler's close to home. I'm sure a lot of beer aficionados in Raleigh will be happy, too, when a fourth location opens next spring in Seaboard Station. When it does, just be sure to look at the back page of the menu.