Alice’s Restaurant

A great new dining option opened on Garland’s Square a year ago. Given its location, Alice Oldenburg named her new restaurant “Tavern on the Square”.The corner space had previously housed a bar with a typical bar menu. Alice decided the empty space would make a great location for her first attempt at operating a restaurant. 

Tavern on the Square is a small restaurant with a full service bar. Maximum seating capacity is about 50, and there is no separation between the bar and dining tables, so there is a delicate balance between the restaurant with great food and the bar with sometimes noisy imbabers. Alice likes to say it’s a restaurant until 9 pm, and then it becomes a bar, when referring to the ambience.

The food exceeds all expectations, and changes seasonally. All menu items including fresh soups and salads made in house daily. The menu items are professionally prepared and presented, from quality ingredients. The upscale food is the result of Alice’s decades long career in the hospitality and catering industry. Restaurant customers are served the same quality of food as our catering customers.

Alice and John Johnston became partners fifteen years ago, and have been operators of At Your Service Catering ever since. Their catering business shares the kitchen at Tavern on the Square, and their business offices are just down the street. This past holiday season was a difficult one, as they had to close the restaurant several days in order to accommodate the catering business. Now that the holidays are over, things are back to normal at the TOTS. They are back to their normal schedule, and open for lunch at 11am. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday until 2pm. Monday TOTS opens for the day at 4pm. Alice is busily planning her Valentines and Mardi Gras menus.

Alice has lived in Garland for the past 25 years, but was born into a large and very poor family in a rough area of the south side of Chicago. At one point she was a runaway, sleeping in hallways, but she has survived. Her first attempt at her own catering business failed, but she survived that, too. That failure taught her what she needed to know, she told us. She went to culinary school and excelled. Her creativity led her instructor to invite her into her own catering business, and Alice continued to learn.

When Alice became a mother she worked multiple jobs in order to provide a life for her daughter that she had not had the opportunity to experience in her own life. Whenever she had a few extra dollars she’d buy a serving implement, such as a chafing dish, to use when catering. She and John first met when she was working as a bartender at a country club. Though the couple remain partners in At Your Service Catering, John wanted Alice to have something of her own. Now we can all enjoy Alice’s Tavern on the Square in downtown Garland. It’s on the corner of Sixth and State Street, a location that Alice believes in the best of all surrounding the square.

We asked Alice if she had a signature dish, and as she pondered our question, servers chimed in with “pot roast” which is apparently popular this time of year. On several occasions we have enjoyed the charcuterie while sipping wine and chatting with friends. The charcuterie is served in small or large sizes of cutting boards filled with cold meats, cheeses and condiments. It’s finger food with flair and fun to share. After sharing a small board for two, there’s often leftovers to take home for later. The shrimp boil was wonderful, and we have friends devoted to the grits with shrimp, and another is addicted to the ahi tuna salad. There are enough choices on the restaurant menu to satisfy most appetites. If you don’t see what you want, Alice wants you to ask for it, reminding us that they have large quantities of food in their catering freezers located in the rear that are not on the restaurant menu.

After all types of foods and food preparations were discussed, including burgers and wings that will be made available for Super Bowl Sunday, I realized we had not made any reference to desserts. I mentioned this to Alice, and she looked shocked, “What do you want, she asked, Strawberries Romanoff”? To tell the truth, I have never tasted or even seen that dessert being served. But now I want to. Rest assured there is a dessert menu, it just didn’t find its way into our interview. Will their bourbon ice cream float your boat?

Alice is willing to share her story of triumph over danger, hardship and failure to anyone who feels trapped by their circumstances. “Recognize the lessons you have learned, and keep  going”, she asserts. There is light at the end of the tunnel, you just may not be able to see it yet. Alice can be tough, and her language a bit “salty”, but she has served the best of fare to the finest of folks and had them coming back for more. Alice is very proud of her Tavern on the Square, and of herself for having put it together. She says there are still some kinks to be ironed out, but I’m betting on Alice. Onward and upward.

Nancy Ghirla