Food Review: The Lakefront Tap Room Takes Gastropubs and Lake Arrowhead to New Heights

If you have spent any amount of time at the village in Lake Arrowhead, The Lakefront Tap Room is likely a restaurant you are already intimately familiar with. The view from their dining rooms, the 44 different beers on tap, and the variety and quality of the menu all create a unique dining experience in the mountain area.

If you spend some time speaking with John or Heather Hackney, husband and wife co-owner duo, you will soon find out that the success of the restaurant is a culmination of the collaborative efforts they have made with their staff.

The Tap Room is primarily known for its burgers, and for good reason. The Tap Room Burger ($15), as John enthusiastically points out, is by far the biggest seller at the restaurant. It includes eight ounces of premium American wagyu beef, a thick slice of sharp cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, tomato, grilled red onion, Guinness mayo and green leaf lettuce on a toasted, buttery brioche bun.

It is served along with your choice of side, but to pair with this burger, I would recommend you stick to the hearty theme and go with the spiral fries, which are thickly cut steak fries with a twist. Every sandwich on the menu is also paired with a fresh pickle, courtesy of Heather, who the restaurant staff knows as a pickle fanatic.

If you are feeling a little more adventurous, then you could instead opt for what my favorite dish in the restaurant is so far: the Asian Gyro ($13), complete with seared, sushi-grade ahi tuna, Asian slaw, pickled red onion, cilantro and a secret sauce served on warm naan bread.

The Tap Room does not disappoint with any of its dishes, but the combination of flavors that Head Chef David Salaz creates within the piece of naan bread is one of the best seafood dishes I have ever tasted. Salaz taps into the current poke craze by using the sushi-grade ahi tuna, which gives a freshness to the gyro that is seldom experiences outside of premiere sushi restaurants.

But the real hero of this dish, if not the secret sauce or the fish, is the way the pickled onion complements the flavor. Neither “pickled” nor “onions” are mild culinary words, but the way they are worked into this dish without overpowering the taste is something you can only find at The Tap Room.

Salaz’s favorite dish, The PBO Burger ($15), is the same American wagyu beef and brioche bun combo as The Tap Room Burger, but delineates from its more popular brother by the addition of smoked pork belly and creamy brie cheese. That alone is enough to create an award winning meal, but Salaz took the burger one step further by developing his own balsamic onion jam to pair with the saltiness of the beef and pork.

The sweetness of the sauce cuts through the savory flavors in every bite, which keeps you on your toes as you chew your way through the burger. This single sauce is perhaps one of the most impressive parts of The Tap Room’s menu, and exists only because John and Heather believe in giving their staff a space where they can experiment with flavors and recipes.

John and Heather made sure to give Salaz creative freedom in the kitchen, where the three of them worked as a team to develop the menu. Salaz, along with John and Heather, kept that creative openness going by bringing in other restaurant staff as well. The result is a kitchen culture that feeds off innovation and collaboration, bringing customers that visit the gastropub an experience they can find nowhere else.

The Elote Tots ($10) are a testament to Salaz’s innovation. In an effort to recreate the experience of hunting down and diving into the flavors of a Mexican corn stand, Salaz decided to take the components of the popular street food and put them on top of Tater Tots.

Grilled sweet corn, red bell peppers, chopped cilantro, a Mexican cheese blend, Tajin and a lime cream sauce are all placed on top of a plate of tots. Small decisions, like staying true to the traditional Tajin seasoning and mimicking the cheese blend found in the portable stands where elotes are traditionally sold, reminds you of why the Mexican corn street food was so popular and enhances it by adding perfectly cooked Tater Tots to the party. There is nothing to not love about this dish.

Of course, The Tap Room wouldn’t be The Tap Room without their collection of 44 different tapped beers, all of which were installed by John himself. While Heather focuses on the kitchen portion of the restaurant as an impressive chef herself, John makes sure to keep the list of available brews and cocktails lively.

One of their winter drinks, the Rosey Cheeks cocktail, which took the award for Best Cocktail at the Best of Taste of Lake Arrowhead, was born from the restaurant’s open recipe policy. The drink was designed by Kourtney Martin, one of the bartenders who has been with The Tap Room since the start.

John and Heather love their restaurant, almost as much as they love the mountain community or the employees who make the restaurant as successful as it is. That personal care and dedication to the establishment, their team and the mountain community is the formula for the great experience that The Lakefront Tap Room alone can offer.

Christian Shepherd can be reached at cshepherd@mountain-news.com.