For inner-beltway dwellers, heading outside of the loop may seem like treading into the Wild West. Sweetwater Tavern, located in Merrifield, may just give them reason to explore a new frontier.
The restaurant, part of the Great American Restaurants chain with outposts across Northern Virginia, is decorated in a Western motif. Teepee-shaped chandeliers, wrapped in metal silhouettes of cowboys on horses, stay far enough away from kitsch for comfort, and other components, like a majestic wall-sized mural of a Western landscape, are artful. Sturdy dark-wood tables and booths evoke a sense of a saloon in a frontier town, and a list of homemade brews bolsters that tavern feel.
The menu, though, uses a lighter hand when applying such flourishes. Its contents are primarily classic American fare, menu items taking a few cues from Western flavors and treatments. Appetizers feature expected bar fare – cheesy dips for tortilla chips and fried favorites – with some Tex-Mex inspiration. The Tex Mex Eggrolls ($8.50) meld smoked chicken, vegetables and black beans in spicy cheese within crispy, fried shells. The vegetable pieces are distinct in their crunch and flavor, and the sweetness of corn and red pepper mingles with the heat from the jalapeno jack cheese. A creamy avocado dipping sauce accompanies the four rolls offered in a serving. Fire Roasted Wings ($8) prepare diners for the meat-heavy entrees and barbecue delights that follow on the menu. Rubbed in seasonings and nicely charred, the wings deliver seriously smoky flavor. The Texas Puddle Sauce that accompanies the wings provides for those who enjoy a wet wing, and brings a subtle sweetness to the mix.
Among entree offerings are the fajitas – “World’s Greatest,” the menu says. Such lofty claims are tough to confirm, but the Sweetwater fajitas are an admirable creation. Chicken ($17), steak ($19), or portobello mushroom ($17) can make up the base of the fajita, and combinations of those options can be ordered at an additional cost. Whatever the selection, it comes to the table sizzling in a hot metal plate atop sauteed onions and topped with a blackened hot pepper, flanked by bowls of rice and black beans. Cool fix-ins – guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, cheese and pico de gallo – come on a separate plate. All are waiting to join the mix within homemade tortillas, fluffier than the standard and served warm from the kitchen, in taco creations made to the diner’s wishes.
Seafood, chicken, and pasta options, not to mention the lighter fare of salads and sandwiches, can be ordered, but beef and pork from a Beef, Ribs & Chops menu section tempts those with cowboy appetites. Among steak, prime rib, and chops plates are the BBQ Baby Back Ribs ($20), a sizeable slab of the hickory smoked ribs served up with thin French fries and a helping of cole slaw. Fall-off-the-bone tender, with a smoky flavor accented by sweet hints delivered by a modest coating of sauce, the ribs don’t disappoint.
The desserts offered are down-home standards like key lime pie, apple pie, and bread pudding, but also the Warm Flourless Chocolate Waffle ($7), a decadent chocolate treat. Two waffles stacked atop one another, hiding a layer of sweet chocolate sauce drizzled elsewhere on the plate, are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of thick whipped cream. Nestled within the whipped cream is a chocolate star, like a sheriff’s badge awarded to diners for braving the Wild West and taking down hunger.
Sweetwater Tavern is located at 3066 Gatehouse Plaza, Falls Church. For more information, call 703-645-8100 or visit greatamericanrestaurants.com. Restaurant hours are Sunday – Monday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; and Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – midnight.