Tap Into Great Food
Tommy Stewart, owner of Five 19 Tap House & Tapas and Brass Monkey Pub & Patio, considered his travels and subsequent culinary discoveries when curating the restaurant’s menu.
article by VANELIS RIVERA \\ photo by KELLY MOORE CLARK
When Tommy Stewart quit his offshore job to work at Olive Garden, he wasn’t thinking of opening his own restaurant. He just wanted to have fun at work. “I had a friend that worked in the restaurant industry…as a bartender, and I always wanted to do that. She always made it seem like it was so fun.” Having no previous service experience, the family-friendly chain was skeptical of hiring him, so he had a round of three different interviews, but his persistence paid off when they eventually brought him in. As a shy young adult, Stewart credits that experience with helping him open up to people. In two years, he grew with the company taking on additional responsibilities. Even then, opening up a restaurant wasn’t in his purview. It would take a few more professional wanderings before ultimately opening one of Monroe’s compelling new culinary escapes.
Olive Garden led to Copeland’s where he worked for six years, starting as a server and leaving as service manager. “So, I was like, ‘Alright, I think I can do this.’” With extensive knowledge of the financial inner workings of a restaurant, he applied to work at the Monroe Applebee’s when it opened. After nine weeks of training, he was promoted from the service manager to kitchen manager. Only six months in, Stewart was promoted to general manager. He stayed at this casual dining franchise for about four years, until he started to notice a particular craving. “I was like, man, I really want to do something myself.” At the time, he was going back and forth between opening a restaurant or bar, so he opted for the most familiar. In the early 2000s, he opened up Club Pink with a partner. It was an all-or-nothing deal. “We lived in Bastrop at the time, and we sold everything in our house. Had an estate sale. Put a sticker on every single picture that wasn’t personal,” he recalls. The pair stayed in the clubbing business for seven years, then Stewart had another idea.
He happened across a Historic Downtown Monroe location that he envisioned for his own establishment. The massive space was sectioned in two, so Stewart concentrated on what he knew he was most recently seasoned at and opened Brass Monkey Pub & Patio in January 2016. For four years, the adjacent room remained vacant. All the while, Stewart kept considering the possibility of opening a restaurant, but he wanted to take his time in order to conceptualize something that would take hold. “I’m always nervous because I feel like Monroe only gives you so many chances to get it right. So, I made sure I got it right the first time. Brass Monkey’s success allowed him to focus on his prospective project, which would end up opening on July 17, 2020.
It began with curating a menu. “What do they not have in Monroe?” Stewart asked himself. He was in search of a niche that also allowed for variety. So, he began to consider his travels and subsequent culinary discoveries. The creative process was simple. Stewart would think of a dish he had tried and put his own spin on it. One of their most popular food items, their naan flatbreads, stemmed from such an experience. “There was a place in Jackson, Mississippi. They had something similar to it,” he says, adding, “We swapped it up a little bit.” With currently ten flatbreads on the menu, it’s an easy choice for large parties that want to taste a little bit of everything, as is the spirit of the tapa: traditionally a Spanish appetizer that can be combined to make a full meal. Sharing these “small” plates is highly encouraged by the Five 19 team. The Mediterranean is sure to please a variety of palates with sliced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic herb butter, pesto, and mozzarella. In the same vein is the Creamy Spinach Dip and Chicken: grilled chicken, creamy spinach artichoke dip, and grated parmesan cheese. More familiar flavors can be found in the Buffalo Chicken flatbread (chicken breast, Colby and Monterrey Jack cheese, bacon bits, garlic butter, drizzled with spicy buffalo sauce) or the Blackened BBQ Chicken Melt (hickory BBQ sauce, grilled chicken, bacon bits, shredded cheese, topped with jalapeno onion crisps). “I get back there sometimes and play with those flatbreads and I just mix and match,” says Steward, who encourages customers to also construct their own.
Brought to the restaurant by way of Stewart’s trip to San Diego is the Teriyaki Steak Tips: marinated beef steak tips, grilled, and served with crisp, sweet potato waffle fries. Another travel-inspired menu item hailing from Jackson, Mississippi is the Tuna Poke Nachos, a craveable item on the other side of the protein spectrum from the “Sharable Plates” section of the menu that you may be reluctant to portion among friends. Here, crispy wontons are topped with ahi tuna tossed with soy sauce and scallions, fresh avocado slices, crisp cabbage, pineapple-mango pico de gallo, then drizzled with cool, spicy wasabi mayo. A food enthusiast in his own right, Stewart plays around in the kitchen, which brought about another must-have item you’d probably rather keep to yourself, the Steak and Truffle Frittes: peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin served with parmesan creamed spinach, herb compound butter, and truffle frites.
Alongside kitchen manager Emily Elizabeth Ellis, Stewart has managed to curate some of the restaurant’s most successful menu items, but their carefully crafted cocktail menu, featuring their one-of-a-kind beer cocktails, may just be what keeps your curiosity piqued. “So, we have sixteen beers on tap,” explains Ellis, who had the enviable job of tasting “each and every” one in order to dive into one of her many expert roles in the restaurant—mixologist. “Our cocktails turn out that even if you don’t like beer, it’s something that you can enjoy because it’s unique with the flavor palate,” she says. Experience beer in a completely different way, starting out with the Yuengling Shandy: Yuengling, Grand Marnier, Peach Schnapps, and house sparkling lemonade. Stewart is a fan of The Spaniard, which is a fabulous mix of Stella Artois, 1800 Reposado, Triple sec, and house lemonade. ot to be outdone by the nuanced cocktails, the martinis on the menu demand more than just a glance, particularly the Salted Caramel Martini: Rum Chata, Smirnoff Salted Caramel vodka, and caramel sauce with a sugared and salted rim. “My mom always told me that I have bougie taste buds,” laughs Ellis, who raves about their in-house simple syrups and freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice for their plethora of boozy blends.
Enjoying a meal or a drink at Five 19 is an all-encompassing experience, further elevated by the space. With the gifted vision of interior decorator Clint Downing and Heather Thacker from Redesign Management, the interior of the restaurant transports patrons to an age-old tavern-esque atmosphere that could make you feel as though you have left Northeast Louisiana. The romantic feel is in the details. The bar was made from reclaimed wood taken from an abandoned building in Historic Downtown Monroe. Downing snagged and reclaimed tin ceiling tiles, using them as the backsplash to the bar, which is the central piece of the space, due mostly to the vintage bar display and worn barstools. “I didn’t want anything that looked too brand new,” attests Stewart, who partook in the artful conception of the interior by way of his own carpenter skills. “I built the tables myself. I’m a little handy,” he laughs. Adding to the timeworn ambiance are blown-up vintage flyers that Downing found in auctions. He printed some on canvas, changing a few of the words in order to fit the tapas theme. One in particular reads, “so good…I’d tapas that.” Downing is also to credit for the delightful display of small, black and white porcelain plates of varying designs, playfully arranged above the entryway. “I want it to be a social environment,” explains Stewart, who hopes that the small plate concept translates into an immersive and engaging evening between family and friends.
From offshores worker to restaurant owner, Stewart is not shy admitting that he is living his dream. “That makes me proud, and happy,” he says. Driven by the evolving nature of the restaurant, alongside the many grueling hours he has accumulated in sharpening his skills, Stewart welcomes the daily challenges of his chosen career path. And, though he may not be in it just for the fun like his early years, the payoff of building a unique and well-established eatery is one he is grateful to be sharing with the Northeast Louisiana community.
Five 19 Tap House & Tapas is located at 519 Desiard St, Monroe, LA 71201. It is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday between 4 to 11 PM, and Wednesday and Friday between 11 AM to 11 PM. Visit their Facebook page for food and drink specials.