Not only does the name, Brady's Tackett's Mill Tavern, have enough words in it for two restaurants, but when you call for a reservation, you're given a choice of two dining possibilities -- the formal Hunt Room (men must wear jackets) or the more casual Tavern.
Although the Hunt Room at Brady's is made to look staid and established, Brady's is part of a brand new shopping-office-apartment complex off Rte. 1 in Prince William County. Each of Brady's three dining rooms has a charm of its own. The stately Hunt Room with hunting pictures on the dark green walls uses a leather wing chair at each beautifully set table. There are two Tavern rooms -- one with slate blue walls and dark wooden beams, the other with rose-colored walls decorated with colorful Matisse cut-out prints.
In a democratic gesture, jacketed gentlemen in the Hunt Room can order onion rings and crab cake sandwiches from the same menu that their Hawaiian-shirted counterparts use in the Tavern rooms. And lamb chops with mint sauce or veal oscar are not restricted to the dark green room with the brass colonial chandelier that is overseen by a stuffed red fox on the fireplace mantel.
Regardless of where you sit or what you wear, the kitchen shows care in presentation. So why was our most successful entree a hamburger?
Partly because expectations aren't as high for a grilled hamburger platter for $4.95. So when it arrives thick and juicy, perfectly grilled, topped with still-crunchy sauteed onions and peppers just as we ordered them, you feel like you've picked a winner.
But mostly, it is the elegant and sophisticated Hunt Room setting and the higher priced entrees -- most in the $12 to $15 range -- that lead you to expect more culinary skill than the kitchen presently exhibits.
To the kitchen's credit, the ingredients tasted fresh enough, but some less-than-successful sauces, such as a grainly bernaise or an overly sweet brandy sauce, detracted from the nicely grilled swordfish steak and the peppercorn steak. And for $15.95, the veal oscar had a disappointingly prosaic crab sauce.
The seasoning sometimes becomes heavy-handed, showering an excess of peppercorns on the peppercorn steak and an overdose of Cajun spices on an otherwise delicious order of fresh catfish.
Dishes from the lower-priced Tavern Fare section of the menu may not be outstanding, but they can be very satisfying. For example, the colorful seafood fettuccine ($7.50), garnished with two shrimps and loaded with tender scallops and mussels, was nicely complemented by a light and buttery herb sauce. A squirt or two from a lemon wedge brought out the flavor even more.
Other tasty dishes were not as generous with the seafood. The creamy oyster stew was deftly seasoned with chervil and thyme but contained few oysters. The platter of briny cherrystone clams was big on lettuce, small on the size of the clams.
Also from the appetizer list, the onion rings were very crisp but otherwise ordinary -- except for the presentation. Listed on the menu as "onion rings tempura," they arrived resting comfortably on a ruffly bed of leaf lettuce atop a pewterlike platter.
While our hamburger was exceptionally good, a hearty crab cake sandwich was merely okay. The big chunks of sweet crab meat were delicious, but there were also big cubes of bread and little seasoning.
The dessert tray held an array of attractive cakes and pies that are generally agreeable but not special.
Why go to Brady's? Because Brady's offers three lovely dining rooms, a service staff that is helpful and friendly, and lighter fare that is often good. If the year-old kitchen can eventually deliver consistently high quality dinner entrees to justify the prices, then a diner will not have to be as selective to enjoy the attractive setting.