Review: Grace Tavern

A pub from the Monk's crew expands the beer-and-frites formula.

By Lauren McCutcheon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 29, 2004

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Grace Tavern
2229 Grays Ferry Ave. 215.893.9580
Cuisine: Beer food
Prices: $5.95-$11
Hours: 11:30am-2am.
Smoking: Yes
Atmosphere: Neighborhood pub.
Service: Nice folks, these.
Food: Sausage sandwiches, Belgian fries, beer.

Live in Philadelphia long enough and you start to see the same people over and over. You may know these people. You may not. Or you may know them, but they don't know you.

This is the case with me and Fergie. I know him. He doesn't know me.

Fergie owns and co-owns a bunch of bars--three or four--in town, including Grace, his newest. He's easy to recognize. He has a long gray-blond ponytail and a fuzzy beard. He drives around town in a yellow Jeep Wrangler. He is 5 feet 9 inches tall. He has a column in this paper on p. 16.

And he seems to be everywhere I go.

I look behind me at a Phils game and there he is, cradling a baby near a cheesesteak stand. I go to Dirty Frank's and he's across the bar having a pint. I walk down Pine Street at 3 p.m. on a weekday and he blows by me in his Jeep with the top off.

Remember that city-stopping blizzard a couple Februarys ago, the one that closed airports for days and made Center City look like that chilly, apocalyptic opening scene from 12 Monkeys? At night the blanketed streets and sidewalks were empty, save a few giant snowblowers--and Fergie, motoring down snowy Sansom Street in my direction. I was the only pedestrian on the street.

I suppose I could introduce myself to him. But I kind of prefer not to. Not knowing him preserves Fergus Carey as a sort of larger-than-life Bacchus, a mythic, omnipresent champion of Belgian beer and frites.

To beer lovers, Fergie's something of a hero, a more recognizable version of equally heroic Tom Peters, his business partner in Monk's Cafe. Their demigod status comes from being the first guys to bring Trappist ales to Philly and the first to put Chimay on permanent tap anywhere outside Belgium. They helped open Nodding Head. They helped restore Philadelphia's reputation as a beer town.

Now the pair is two-thirds of Grace Tavern, formerly known as Kelly's Tavern. The third third is James Fernandez, who manages the place.

And what a nice place it is, this narrow, redone pub at the triangle of 23rd Street, Grays Ferry Avenue and South Street. It's got restored pressed-tin ceilings and walls, a mahogany bar with art deco figures on either side of its mirror and a small back dining room.

When Grace opened in May, it had a full lineup of draughts--Yards Saison, Ommegang Witte, Rosenbach's esoteric Flemish sour ale that's brewed especially for Monk's and, for Kelly's regulars, Miller Lite--plus a small menu of sausage sandwiches. Now there's a bigger but still simple menu, including burgers and seafood sandwiches.

Fries don't come much finer. Grace's twice-dipped golden beauties easily incite polite grabbing matches among their eaters until the giant plastic basket offers nothing but nubs. Here, as at Monk's, I always wish there were more big fries and fewer nubs. But the remoulade--Monk's secret recipe bourbon mayo with a kick--is delicious.

Mayo is in glorious abundance at Grace. It appears alongside blackened green beans in a homemade remoulade seasoned with mustard, garlic and capers. The flash-cooked fresh beans themselves are extra-Cajun-spicy and very salty, meant to be eaten with your fingers. They're positively addictive.

The burgers are decent: big, grilled, topped with mushrooms and cheddar or Swiss and raw red onions, or premade vegan patties topped with vegan mayo.

A mayo-based lobster and langoustine salad is fresh, sweet and summery, its tiny chopped parts mixed in herby homemade, um, mayo and celery on a toasted hot dog roll.

The Waldorf salad is a little too delicate. The chicken is tender and the raisins sweet, but the apples that are supposed to provide a satisfying crunch are just hard-to-find bits. Still, the fresh lime dressing--mayo-based, of course--is a refreshing twist.

There's a great po' boy made with Virginia oysters battered in cornmeal and flour and expertly fried: crunchy outside, tender in, not one bit chewy, served on French bread wiped with garlic butter and remoulade, with more remoulade on the side.

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