Tree houses represent a special kind of wonder and playfulness. That’s what guests can expect while dining at the Tree House Tavern in Warwick. With soft lighting, a tearoom and a hodgepodge of eclectic doodads donning the space, this converted 1860s farmhouse is filled with nostalgic charm. A bonus: When the weather gets warmer, guests can dine under an outdoor “woodshed” or bundle up around a fire pit.
We caught up with the Tree House Tavern’s executive chef, Erik Machado, to learn more about the restaurant’s menu, seasonal decor and what’s in store for 2017.
How’d you get started in the culinary world?
I wanted a car really badly when I was about 15, so I got a job washing dishes. I started at the Red Rooster Tavern in North Kingstown. From there, when I was 19 or 20, I went to work for a company called West Bay Gourmet in Narragansett – they do events. I was also over in Newport on Thames Street – what’s now the Gas Lamp Grille – and 22 Bowen’s. I was working all three jobs at the same time. After that, I was working as a private chef for about six years – at first on yachts and then for one particular guy – so I’d be down in the Caribbean for six months out of the year. At the same time, when I’d come home, I worked at the Matunuck Oyster Bar.
Tell me about your transition from private chef to the Tree House Tavern.
It’s a funny story actually. I was doing the private chef thing and my wife picked me up from the airport. It was late but I needed a sandwich. I saw a sign for pulled pork at the Tree House Tavern, so we came in for a quick bite. The owner, Michael, heard me talking about what I’d been up to that week, and he contacted me after that.
You change up the menu a few times a year. How does that process work?
I tweak the menu about three or four times a year. We just went through another change in mid-March. When I lose interest in cooking the same thing, it’s time to move on.
What are some best sellers on the menu?
The Sweet Potato Pizza – made with chunks of sweet potato, goat cheese, prosciutto and balsamic glaze – has been on the menu forever. That was one of the first things I ever changed and I just can’t seem to take it off. People like that one too much. The rib eye is always a staple. It’s a 16 ounce grilled rib eye with our Tree House steak sauce, horseradish, bacon, red onion, fingerling potato hash and asparagus. Lobster Bread Pudding has always sold really well, and so do the Pulled Pork Nachos.
You also offer brunch on weekends. What are some favorites from the brunch menu?
I’m in the middle of rewriting the menu because we want to start changing it out monthly. You’ve got your staples – eggs, toast, bacon – but one of the dishes that sells really well is our Country Benedict. We make our own corned beef here, so it’s all homemade. We serve that on an English muffin with an egg on top. We’ve also just started selling a Reuben Benedict, which is fun. It’s just like it sounds – an open-faced Reuben sandwich with eggs on it. And people go crazy for our Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.
I noticed that the decor also changes seasonally. Does this coordinate with menu changes?
The decor pretty much changes with the menu, about three times a year. In the past month, the owners, Aline and Michael, have geared up for a big change. I don’t want to give away the theme – people will just have to come see it. That’s part of the fun of coming here.
The Tree House Tavern
1094 Centerville Road, Warwick