The team responsible for Memphis Taproom brings new life to a dead pub with Grays Ferry’s Resurrection Ale House.
“Stay close to the candles; the staircase can be treacherous,” might as well be the motto at Resurrection Ale House, a split-level saloon so dark I was squinting to see the blackboard draught list. But the Young Frankenstein line is doubly apt, as Resurrection marks the third time husband-and-wife owners Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida have successfully reanimated dead spaces.
First came Memphis Taproom in the old Walt’s, then Local 44 in the old Kelliann’s. Now, Resurrection in the old Yello’bar, “a sweet low-hanging fruit of a deal,” according to Hartranft, who, pre-Memphis, nearly became the manager there until salary negotiations soured.
Hartranft and Maida acquired the bar in July; polished and candle-lit the space for a look that’s “sexy but not whorish” in Hartranft’s accurate assessment; and reopened as Resurrection in September. It’s across from the Naval Homes complex, whose long lawn and Greek Revival mansion gives the effect of a well-maintained insane asylum. But the folks tearing toward Grays Ferry aren’t crazy, just thirsty, and can you blame them? Resurrection’s chalkboard tempts with a 12-draught roster as smart and taut as a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
Hartranft and Maida give local brewers their due—on the nights before Christmas, Mad Elf made merry mischief—but the larger focus is Belgian, with an emphasis on sours and big-bottle vintages on the 47-deep list. The pours are affordable too, with ’round-the-clock discounts, but keep your wits about you, because chef Joey Chmiko’s food deserves your undivided attention.
Of the menus at Hartranft and Maida’s three pubs, Resurrection’s is the most restaurant-like, the credit for which goes to Chmiko, a Jersey boy who cooked at Union Trust and Local 44 before taking the helm here. That’s not to say the menu isn’t snacky or beer-friendly. The pickle plate brought six fittingly tangy mates for my pint of thirst-quenching St. Louis Geuze, the Sour Patch Kid of beers. Chmiko changes the pickled veggies frequently, but expect to see kosher dills, bread-and-butters and, if you’re lucky, unusual kabocha squash in a three-vinegar brine fortified with ginger, cardamom and clove.
The Geuze also matched well with a voluptuous white gazpacho that would have definitely made my 10 Best Dishes of 2009 list if I’d only eaten at Resurrection a week earlier. I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of it, but the cool pool was more of a sauce for four skewers of grilled shrimp than a proper soup. Still I spooned the creamy, complex puree of house-made country white bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar finished with a sweet little salad of fat purple grapes. The Sriracha and sambal-licked shrimp, perfectly cooked, also happened to kick ass.
I could spend all my allotted inches describing that gazpacho, but there are other dishes to attend to. Take the lush, creamy polenta enriched with mascarpone, for example. Sautéed crimini and shiitake sunk slowly into the cornmeal quicksand, and I into it and the wintry, stick-to-your-ribs comfort of the whole thing. The polenta is one of several vegetarian choices, though one astute friend pointed out the lack of a middle ground between the crunchy likes of “Slow Cooked Fall Greens” and “Israeli Couscous & Quinoa” and carnivore obsessions like shanks, bellies and fried chicken. If you’re looking for a piece of fish at Resurrection, you’re out of luck.
But for carnivores and connoisseurs of crispy skin, that fried chicken can’t be beat. “It’s the chef’s mother’s recipe,” my server—who was awesome by the way, handling the whole dining room herself—remarked as she set down the twin thighs over smashy Red Bliss potato salad. Chmiko fries the bird twice, just like his mom, Cindy, and though there were some slightly scorched sections, it was a small price to pay for the vast swaths of crisp skin sticky with Sriracha-spiced honey.
I also had the hefty beef shank sandwich, which was good but could have been better. (Shredding the meat into more manageable bites would be a start.) Dessert brought a cookie plate of dense, cakey blondies, crunchy almond biscotti and a wonderfully savory lemon-rosemary- cornmeal number. Whether or not you believe in life after death, there’s no denying the cookie dip, a thick amber Stayman apple puree (like applesauce on ’roids), was heaven. ■
PW's Taste of Philly 2014