There's a lot to like about Memphis Taproom, the hotly anticipated Port Fishington gastropub that's quickly locking down status as the preferred command center for the neighborhood's vanguard.
I like that the beer list doesn't feel like required reading--30 bottles, one beer engine and 11 interesting draughts (Green Flash West Coast IPA, gluten-free Ace Perry pear cider) written on chalkboards. I like that chef Jesse Kimball has pish-posh credentials from Matyson and Lacroix. I like how his menu respectfully nods to the old neighborhood with Polish platters of kraut and kielbasa, but also stays in the here and now with veggie choices under the direction of vegan sous chef Rob Notowitz.
I certainly like that it's cheap--nothing more than $15. I like the "stroller on over" happy hour on first Mondays for baby mamas. I like that they have their own futbol team that plays Saturdays at Pennypack Park.
But what I really like is how the resident witterati have embraced Memphis Taproom, whether out of lack of Johnny Brenda's alternatives, genuine affection or the warm-fuzzy feeling that the scrappy pub no doubt cements their existence in hipsterdom.
Industry vets (and buddies) Brendan Hartranft (Nodding Head), Paula Decker (wife of Nodding Head owner Curt Decker) and Ken Correll (Shackamaxon Catering) saw a need and filled it. There are bodies in the seats. At all hours. That the food needs a lot of work makes locals' loyalty even sweeter.
For the greater good, they turn a blind eye to the glutinous vegan buckwheat-and-white bean chili the texture of over-nuked Quaker oatmeal; dismiss the overbearing saltiness of the pasties, English empanadas pocketing zingy horseradish-spiked short ribs and Vidalias braised in Sprecher Bavarian Black lager; ignore the leathery unsmoked, unevenly sauced pulled pork sandwich and the kitchen's lag times--ridiculously long given a good portion of the menu is fried.
That they're coming anyway speaks to a zeitgeist, and this zeitgeist goes beyond burgers and beer. It's about new neighborhoods.
But I'm not a local, so after one meal at Memphis Taproom, I'm bummed, deflated as a tire after a bleary-eyed bike crawl. The jacket potatoes, awesomely artery- clogging spuds loaded with bacon and cheddar, and the soft, chewy wares of the vegan North Port Fishington Cookie Factory aren't enough to lure me back uptown for seconds.
Thank the gastropub gods, on my next visit Kimball hit a more even stride with bar snacks like Walla Walla suicide rings, thin bracelets with a proper onion-to-breading ratio, and corn dodgers, jalape�o-spiked maize fritters dunked in smoky roasted red pepper ketchup.
Tr�egs Dreamweaver gives wheaty notes to the sumac-sprinkled hummus garnished with addictive fried chickpeas bobbing like dimpled buoys in the wet-but-tasty dip, although the watery tofu tzatsiki slides off accompanying crudites like rain off a well-waxed Mercedes.
Stocked with bottles from Rogue, Dogfish and Port Brewing, Kimball reports not disingenuously that the beer walk-in is bigger than the kitchen, leaving him room to do little more than knead dough on a tiny rolling cart for from-scratch Sunday brunch.
Ergo, he turns to neighborhood businesses (and smartly so) to supply other time-and-space-consuming yummies: Susquehanna Avenue's Baked for vegan coconut cakes; AC Kissling on East Allen for sharp sauerkraut; Czerw's Kielbasy on Tilton for the butter-browned half-moon pierogi filled with farmer's cheese and fluffy mashed potatoes--but ironically not for the kielbasa itself, sourced from some Deep Throat purveyor Kimball won't disclose.
Both the pierogi and kraut appear on the Port Richmond Platter, a cool congress of Polish faves, along with puffy latkes (bound with natural potato starch to keep them vegan) and rosy grill-marked smiles of smoky pork kielbasa smeared with barley wine mustard.
Thick-cut Texas toast arrives special-order from Baltimore for the king rarebit, royal variation on the Welsh rarebit--pronounce it "rabbit" in Gone Baby Gone cadence--an open-faced sandwich popular in British latitudes. Kimball tops the browned toast with two sunny-side-up pastured eggs (gracias, Green Meadow Farms) dusted with Turkish aleppo pepper and Old Peculiar ale gravy sharpened with cheddar.
Pierced, the yolks spill into the fondue, mingling in a brown-and-yellow slurry that doesn't look pretty but tastes rich and satisfying. The king rarebit is the kind of sustenance that'll set you right after a long night in the company of Sly Foxes and the PBC, something the Memphis menu will need once the Port Fishington buzz wears off.
We’ve mentioned Etsy shop Daymaker, which sells little papercraft patterns of various Kensington sights, before, but felt that this little fold-it-yourself version of Memphis Taproom was worth another mention. Too cute! And it’s just $7, which might make it a good present for a crafty-type Kenzo.
A quiet little neighborhood bar and restaurant in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Serving a host of delicious and rare beers, as well as a delightful menu, a step above your average Pub Fare....
From upscale to down home, we really know where to knock 'em back.
Dinner with Luke Palladino