Northern Virginia is home to thousands of top notch restaurants, so my husband and I try to venture somewhere new (or at least new to us) every time we dine out. We had enjoyed other local restaurants owned by The Great American Restaurants group in the past, so we headed out to Sweetwater Tavern at 45980 Waterview Plaza in Sterling, Va. for a recent weekday date night.
Here’s a rundown of how the restaurant fared on our visit; we received no compensation from the restaurant or anyone with an interest in it to write this review.
Sweetwater Tavern is located just off of Route 7 in Sterling, Va. It’s not far from Dulles Toll Road and Route 28, but all of those roads host heavy commuter traffic during the week. Give yourself enough time if you’re venturing out during rush hour. The restaurant also shares a parking lot with Olive Garden and Plaza Azteca, so it may be difficult to find a parking spot during peak dining hours.
The restaurant accepts reservations until 6:30 p.m. and after 8:30 p.m.; otherwise, they accept call ahead seating. We made a 6:30 p.m. reservation and sat down at our booth immediately.
Sweetwater Tavern has both a comfortable dining area and a lively bar. A bar and accompanying pub-style seating is directly in the center of the restaurant, and large tables and booths flank both sides of the bar. There’s plenty of comfortable seating in both dining areas, but the noise level was pretty high throughout our visit. That didn’t bother us, but it may not be the best spot for a romantic dinner.
In terms of restaurant décor, Sweetwater Tavern perfectly blended classic and modern. Both my husband and I noticed the interesting 19th-century mural of a historic tavern that covered the interior right wall. The booths kept with a modern tavern theme with dark wood in clean lines, and an updated chalkboard list of current brews adorned the back wall. The lighting was soft without being dim, and holiday décor of garland, red bows, and lighted wreaths added a nice wintery touch.
Since we had never visited this restaurant, we decided in advance that we would make it a three-course meal. The drink list was more diverse than the dinner menu, but there were still several suitable options.
Neither of us was really in the mood for beer, but you can’t go to a tavern that brews its own without trying SOMETHING. I ordered the Great American Restaurants Pale Ale, and he ordered the Naked River; we ultimately switched, but both tasted smooth and crisp (and we each ordered a second).
For dinner, we ordered Firecracker Shrimp as an appetizer; while it provided the pre-meal “kick” that we wanted, we could have gotten twice as much Bang Bang Shrimp at Bonefish Grill for $9.50. For dinner, I settled on the jambalaya, and my husband ordered the prime rib. Sweetwater Tavern’s penne-based jambalaya may not rank with Louisiana natives, but the combination of Creole spices and Andouille sausage satisfied my Cajun craving in a perfectly sized dinner portion. My husband thought the prime rib tasted “decent, but not Steakhouse quality.” We both agree, however, that the gooey Deep Dish Apple Pecan pie dessert was a warm and flavorful way to end our date.
Our server was pleasant, and the staff tended to us well – until dinner was served. We ran out of water shortly after our plates hit the table, and we waited at least ten minutes for refills despite numerous servers in our area. The restaurant was crowded, but it seemed our server completely disappeared. Once she returned to clear our plates and finally quench our thirst, we again waited long enough to order dessert that we considered just asking for the check. We commonly tip at least 20 percent for acceptable service, but we left a little less due to our wait at the end.
Sweetwater Tavern ranks alongside a Bonefish Grill (with better beer selections) for us; it’s fancier than your average burger joint like Red Robin or Chili’s, but it’s a few steps below fine dining. Though it felt more “tavern” than “sweet,” the energetic atmosphere and homemade brews enticed us to make at least a second visit. That said, we’ll plan our next visit during off-peak hours or for after-dinner drinks.