Great Group Dining

Why cook for a crowd when someone else can do it for you? Tamarack Tap Room and Carmine’s have large group dining down to an art.

’Tis the season for extended family gatherings. Along with the snow and ice, December brings lots of family and friends to town for the holidays. Perhaps you’re playing host or hostess yourself later this month. Given the sheer amount of time that it takes to plan a menu, do the grocery shopping, cook the meals and clean up afterwards, we really don’t blame you if you don’t feel up to cooking for a crowd. Why not let someone else do it? With Woodbury’s plethora of restaurants, there are plenty of options to choose from, and many have not only the room to seat your whole gang but also menus big enough to appease even the pickiest of eaters among you.

Tamarack Tap Room

Tamarack Tap Room has only been around for a couple of years but it might as well be a Woodbury establishment. Although burgers and beer are their specialties, their wide-ranging menu items and expansive seating options make it a great place to bring a big group. General manager Jesse Barton says that the entire Tamarack Tap Room team prides itself on the restaurant’s warm, welcoming ambiance, always striving to make any visit to the tap room a memorable one.

While some restaurants may charge a fee for the use of one of their private rooms, you’ll always get it free at Tamarack Tap Room. “In other places, the way it typically goes is that you get nickel and dimed,” Barton says. “We don’t have any reservation fees in regards to room charges, and for events, we don’t charge for tablecloths or linens or anything like that.” He does say that for large-scale events, such as birthday parties or weddings, the restaurant will put food and beverage minimums in place, but even those remain reasonably priced.

The Tamarack Tap Room menu features upscale bar fare—handcrafted burgers, wood-fired flatbreads, sandwiches and salads. There are also plenty of appetizers, such as sliders and street tacos that are perfect for sharing (or devouring on your own). And, the Tamarack Tap Room is definitely a family-friendly place, so if you have little ones in your group, they’ll be well-served. “We’ll bend over backwards to make sure that the kids are taken care of,” Barton says. The restaurant’s kids menu ensures that hungry restaurant goers of every age can find something delicious to eat at Tamarack, no matter how finicky of an appetite they might have.

Of course, it being a tap room, Tamarack has plenty of brews available for any beer enthusiasts you might bring along. The restaurant boasts a 72-beer tap line that includes a wide variety of beers and a couple of non-alcoholic options. “We have our mainstays—those are kind of our core beers, but they do change seasonally—and then we have rotating taps that we change out every single week,” Barton says. “We’re always rotating in conjunction with what our customers are looking for, current trends and whatever is relevant at the time and, of course, what’s seasonal is one of the most important aspects of what we serve.” This December, patrons can choose from a variety of fun winter beers. Barton says that the Clown Shoes Pecan Pie Porter, Bells Le Contrebassiste (a rustic brown farmhouse ale) and Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Porter make for especially great picks given the chilly weather outside.

If a more private gathering is what you have in mind, Tamarack Tap Room has you covered there, too, with options for small to medium-sized groups and up to 100 guests for a seated dinner. Events are one of their specialties, which Barton says is due to the incredible staff. “I have not one time had anything other than just stellar comments about how we go about doing big group events. We really do go above and beyond what anybody else is going to give,” he says. “We’ve got an awesome staff; I’m super proud of our staff. We’ve just got good people that care about others and care about the customer.”

Carmine’s Restaurant and Bar

Carmine’s Restaurant and Bar is another great option if you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed. The family-owned restaurant is often one of the most bustling restaurants in Woodbury—a testament to how great the food and service are. It opened back in 2011, originally serving just Italian-American cuisine, but it has since expanded to include a wide range of global fare. “We do everything from Mexican to Cajun and New Orleans-style food to hamburgers,” says owner Brenda Hafiz. “You name it, it’s on the menu.”

The diversity of the Carmine’s menu is one of the things that customers love best about the local joint. “It just sort of evolved into being a neighborhood place where you can go once or twice a week and always try something new. We’ve always got different types of food, and the chef does specials about every month and a half to every two months,” Hafiz says. “It’s sort of fun how that all worked out over time. You start with one thing, and it ends up being so much bigger and better than what you could have dreamed. People really appreciate the changes and the eclectic menu.”

Hafiz says that pretty much everything on the Carmine’s menu is shareable, particularly appetizers (don’t miss the deep-fried ravioli or the chicken wings) and pasta dishes. Carmine’s staff is always happy to adapt to the needs of the particular group they’re serving. “If they say that’s what they’re going to do beforehand, that’s great—we set it up, we put the right plating down, and we just make it happen,” Hafiz says.

Carmine’s is also no stranger to big group meals. “We literally do large groups every day of the week. I always have two 10-tops in my restaurant going, and it’s nothing for me to have a 20-top every weekend,” Hafiz says. But, having the right people on board is key. “It’s not the easiest thing to do, but the real hard work is with our staff. If you don’t have the right staff—from the cooks to the servers—big groups can be a really difficult thing to do.”

Carmine’s is happy to accommodate groups, but keep in mind that a head’s up is key—reservations are always much appreciated. The banquet room, which can hold up to 100 people, is also available. Just call the restaurant for a reservation.

Cocktails at Carmine’s

With short days and icy-cold weather, one can easily spend winter wishing for warmer days, daydreaming about sitting outdoors with a drink in hand. But why waste these months yearning for summer? Carmine’s has plenty of beverages fit for the cold months ahead. Warm up to winter with one of their many cocktails.
Owner Brenda Hafiz says that throughout the winter, customers can look forward to a variety of old-fashioned cocktails. “There are a lot of old drinks coming back, and we’re going to see a lot more of that in the dining experience throughout the winter,” she says. The pomegranate ginger mule is one of their best and most popular cold-weather cocktails. Pomegranate juice and ginger simple syrup give this classic drink a special zing that makes it perfect for the holidays ahead—and, of course, the traditional copper mugs are always fun.

Although one can sip a martini any time during the year, something about doing so in winter makes it all the better. “Always during the holidays, our martini list goes up,” Hafiz says. “We always have a variety of different martinis.” She says that the chocolate martini makes for a stellar standout, and, of course, there’s always the White Russian. Just three ingredients—vodka, cream and coffee liqueur—are all you need for this smooth, creamy classic drink.

There are also plenty of chances to enjoy a cocktail at Carmine’s. Happy hour is every weekday from 3-6 p.m., 3-5 p.m. Saturdays and all day Sundays.