Executive chef John Marshall opened Old Bull Tavern five years ago. One year after opening, he bought the space next door and brought on business partner Oscar Salas to help the establishment become what it is today.
What is the inspiration for your menu?
John Marshall: We get our inspiration from our grandmothers. You see those photos on the wall? Those are headshots of our grandmothers from Oscar, Oscar’s wife Amanda, our general manager Stacie van Vulpen and myself. I like to say, “Our food is grandma food, if your grandma’s a really good cook.” It’s basically comfort food with a creative twist. We try to (be) constantly innovative while respecting our predecessors.
How does your culinary background help shape the dishes?
Marshall: I worked in Italy when I was younger and worked in about 25 restaurants while in Italy. So of course we had to open up our wood-fire pizza kitchen in the new space. Also, our pastas are some of our hottest items and we’re constantly changing the dishes based on the seasonality of the ingredients. There are some dishes we have to keep on the menu or our regulars would go crazy, such as our homemade ricotta gnocchi with wild caught shrimp, tomato sauce and basil. Other dishes, such as the lamb shank braised in red wine and tomato sauce with rosemary and olives, we also choose to always feature on the menu.
Marshall: It’s a constant moveable feast. Our menu changes organically. We keep a local base so we can stay flexible and adapt to whatever is fresh, in season and available. For instance, I work with a guy who’s one of the few people in South Carolina licensed to harvest chanterelle mushrooms. Sometimes he’ll just show up with fresh chanterelles, so we’ll craft various dishes around the mushrooms.
What kind of cocktails do you serve?
Marshall: We can create anything here. Our mixologists are talented and are always crafting new cocktails to try. We keep the Purgatory and the Orient Express, which as Absolut Citron, canton ginger, lychee and lime, on the menu. Our Parker Posey is cava, St. Germain and a lemon twist. Most of our wines by the glass are served through a nitrogen tap system with a reserve wine list of 50 offerings. We also feature 30 bourbon whiskeys that can be ordered singly or in flights.
How should an Old Bull Tavern patron order?
Marshall: Our menu offers bar snacks, starters, middle plates, entrees, pizza, and of course desserts. Depending on how hungry he or she is, they can order a starter (as) an entrée or try a smattering of dishes and order two to four starters and middle plates. It’s always good to go with a pizza, too. We’ll do a Madrileno pizza with manchego, portabella mushrooms, asparagus, Iberico harm and crème fraiche; a Napolitan with fennel salami, mozzarella, fennel confit, fennel pollen and tomato sauce; and other geographically specific pies.
Describe the atmosphere of Old Bull Tavern.
Marshall: The Old Bull Tavern is a friendly neighborhood gastropub. The décor is eclectic, fashioned from found and repurposed items. The restaurant is mostly completely seated by 6:30, the bar stays full all night but definitely amps up after the kitchen closes.
Check out the Old Bull Tavern at 205 West Street in downtown and visit them on Facebook here.
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