Given the right ingredients, Kite and Key could fly.
Searching for the silver lining in the nation’s financial quagmire? Locally, as chichi restaurants cut costs, fine-dining chefs are bringing their well-honed skills to the types of cozy neighborhood haunts you and I more typically frequent. High-five, economic pit of despair!
The latest: Justin Hoke, whose resume reads like a dog-eared Zagat guide—Le Cirque 2000, Le Bec-Fin, Table 31—but since January includes Kite and Key Tavern, two local bartenders’ ambitious Franklintown taproom.
It’s not the food that’s particularly ambitious—actually, it could use a bit of Perrier elan—but rather it’s the fact that owners Jim Kirk and Jake Hampson have recruited an executive chef—as well as a full-time pastry chef (Dennis Crowley of Water Works)—of such considerable pedigree. It says to me they’re not fucking around.
Neither is the beer program, which also aims high with 16 taps, 30 bottles and a fresh hand pump pouring Yards Love Stout just in time for Philly Beer Week. Kirk and Hampson know beer—the two bartended together at Bishop’s Collar for years—so don’t be too dismayed by the presence of High Life, Ultra and Twisted Tea for that classy gal in your life. Just pretend they’re not there and head right for Stoudts’ insane Smooth Hoperator and that lusty tart, the Duchesse De Bourgogne.
The clientele is as varied as the beer list: yups in pea coats, tenured Penn profs, KKF undergrads and hipsters in their sisters’ jeans all lining the handsome mohogany bar Kirk and Hampson built by hand. The entire transformation of the old Savannah Soul Food into the warm, woodsy Kite and Key is a product of their sweat equity.
And the rehab is ongoing. Once spring arrives and the wood-paned window-wall folds open, they’re looking to add a beer garden in the pub’s adjacent breezeway.
Kirk and Hampson clearly have great expectations for Kite and Key, as I did for Hoke’s cooking. But despite his culinary breeding, the food needed tweaking. Like more heat in the mountain of Thai chili mussels, please. And more of anything in the crepes. Hugging bland chicken and bland button mushrooms in bland cream sauce, they weren’t bad per se. Ordinary is the appropriate word, when—with some wild mushrooms, juicy dark meat, more citrus, more herbs and a Breton-style buckwheat batter for a crepe that tastes nutty and interesting instead of like Bisquik—they could’ve been really delicious.
In an era when even McDonald’s boosts their barbecue sauce with chipotle peppers, Kite and Key’s shredded lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole didn’t cut it as toppings for the grouper tacos. Each bite left me wanting something more. Fortunately, the grouper tasted zesty and crisp, a credit to Hoke’s “calamari dust”—a blend of flour, cornmeal, dried ginger, cayenne and paprika he should probably rename fairy dust ’cause the stuff is freaking magic.
Aside from a mushy crab-cake slider that squished out the sides of its poppy seed bun, the rest of Hoke’s efforts showed promise. Like the perfectly respectable burger, for example, and the eight-hour-braised barbecue pork butt sandwich gone Italian with roasted long hots and sharp provolone, both served (with the sorry crab cake) in Kite and Key’s slider trio. True, the mussels lacked fire, and (except for the chili sauce) the ingredients—shallots, garlic, vermouth, chicken stock, butter, parsley— evoked more Provence than Phuket, but still, the PEI pileup was plump and sand-free, and the broth was charged with all the flavor I missed in the crepes.
I enjoyed Crowley’s vanilla bean-scented beignets (slightly overcooked but tasty nonetheless) dunked into pools of crème anglaise, warm fudge and bright blood orange coulis, but not his pineapple cobbler. He makes the latter’s crème fraiche topping on premises—admirable except that the results were rancid, infecting an otherwise lovely pairing of sweet-tart fruit, buttery pastry shingles and chocolate-pineapple gloss. Attempt duly noted, but an A-for-effort doesn’t cut it in Philly’s competitive gastropub sandbox. Kite and Key’s got the look and the beer. With a bit more finesse and originality in the menu, this tavern will take off.
Regarding Christopher Wink’s recent story about a woman’s death due to the slow response of a private ambulance service: Ok! Now it’s time to tell what happen that day. Yes we are received a call from Mr. Glikman father. But he did not tell us everything. That day a temperature was low (19 degrees F), and we have a problem with start. But we are arrived at scene in 20 min., and second call from Mr. Glikman was at his residence. We found Adelina Glikman laying on a floor in a perfect supine position, with a bruise on her forehead. She was unconscious and unresponsive. I started one man CPR when my partner jump to the truck for BVM, when he return he take a turn and I call 911 about “code blue.” The 911...