Review: Memphis Taproom

By Adam Erace
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 21 | Posted Jun. 11, 2008

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Neighborhood haunt: Port Fishington's spirit lifts grim culinary times at Memphis Taproom. (photo by michael persico)

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.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 21 of 21
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1. truthbeast said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 07:51AM

“you've GOT to be kidding.... was this review even proofread before it went to press?? can't PW edit do anything well?? and what food credentials does Erace even have? christ, this couldn't scream INTERN any louder! what a depressing and unfortunate disaster. ”

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2. tm said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 08:58AM

“PW needs to employ competent restaurant reviewers...at least someone in the industry. This is no more than some guys uneducated opinion. Not only that, but double check the facts. Half of what he wrote was wrong anyway. As a loyal taproom customer, I keep going back because the food and service are great. Do me a favor Adam, stop calling the neighborhood Port Fishington, and better yet, don't come back!”

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3. Foodie987 said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 09:06AM

“Truthbeast, maybe you didn't understand Adam Erace's review (how, I don't know), but that doesn't make it riddled with mistakes. There is not one grammatical mistake in the entire piece. Maybe his wit and style is not to your liking, or just over your head? I have found his reviews to be RIGHT ON almost all the time. I actually find him to be more accurate than Craig LaBan sometimes!”

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4. truthbeast said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 09:20AM

“i understood the review completely (PW doesn't seem to break the 3rd grade reading level status much these days...), but i never said it was riddled with mistakes. PW edit should have just proofread it before they released it. for one, violation of grammar 101: r u n o n s e n t e n c e s . . . reading this is akin to speaking with a mouthful of syrup or wading through a pool of goo. wit? are you serious? i can't even comment about that. to anyone else reading this, pissing contests aside, don't believe this guy. their food is actually damn good. ”

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5. CC226 said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 11:13AM

“Not only are there no run-on sentences, but I see some finely executed semicolons in here. Take issue with the food opinions if you like, but the grammar is beyond reproach.”

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6. The Angry Grammarian said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 12:13PM

“Not only are there no run-on sentences, but I see some finely executed semicolons in here. Take issue with the food opinions if you like, but the grammar is beyond reproach.”

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7. Lucy said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 02:26PM

“I agree with truthbeast! What a lousy reviewer. I've never understood why English Major equals Food Review for this paper. It's been YEARS since this food column has been worth reading. As for this review in particular... I've eaten there about 8-9 times in the last few weeks and Erace is so off base on so many things related to the food! And he barely even notices that it's a GREAT beer bar. Why does everything need to be negative and cynical? Is there really NOTHING worth liking in this city? Maybe they snark at everything to distract us from the lack of quality or qualified writers.”

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8. tm said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 05:54PM

“i could not even read this sentence aloud with out stopping to breath 2 times. It is so long winded, i forgot what the sentence was about by the time i got to the end of it. (and FYI, they are called PASTIES..not pastries. way to fact check guys!) "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 pastries, 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."”

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9. this is more like it... said... on Jun 11, 2008 at 06:06PM

“cough...cough.... pssssst.... http://philadining.blogspot.com/2008/06/memphis-taproom.html”

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10. epices6 said... on Jun 12, 2008 at 09:21AM

“Let's give Adam the benefit of the doubt - he tasted almost all menu items and described how they tasted to him, as prepared during his visits. I know it is easy to get a bit peevish when one's favorite joint is criticized but the kitchen is well advised to take his criticism to heart and improve the consistency of the food. There are many compliments in Erace's review and I, for one, appreciate his critical take on some of the food - that is what a critic is supposed to do. The kitchen of Memphis Taproom strives to serve tasty, well-prepared, and moderately priced food, and I am confident that their small but diverse menu will please almost everyone, if prepared with care and consistency.”

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11. pwbaker said... on Jun 12, 2008 at 09:35AM

“Why is everybody so terrified to call Kensington "Kensington"? Port Fishington? Give me a break. Fishtown? Not if it's north of Norris (or at least York). For a publication that likes to present itself as being in tune with Philly's neighborhoods, you would think you could at least get the neighborhood right, instead of indulging in the urge to rename neighhborhoods, which is more the purview of realtors.”

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12. Erin said... on Jun 12, 2008 at 06:08PM

“I think PW's are some of the sharpest and most reliable in the city. They are now and the have been for years! Not only is the food commentary spot on, the writing is entertaining. It's always a fun read. I agree that it would be smart of MT to take a look at his criticisms and try to make the food better. There's always room for improvement.”

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13. Erin said... on Jun 12, 2008 at 07:08PM

“I think PW's are some of the sharpest and most reliable in the city. They are now and the have been for years! Not only is the food commentary spot on, the writing is entertaining. It's always a fun read. I agree that it would be smart of MT to take a look at his criticisms and try to make the food better. There's always room for improvement. ”

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14. gabbage said... on Jun 13, 2008 at 07:05AM

“Its not quite Kensington either. Kensingtone doesn't really pick up until you are west of Frankford Ave. If you are familiar with the neighborhood or grew up there most people refer to the pocket of York to Lehigh, Aramingo to Frankford as Cione as a reference to the playground n the middle of the neighborhood. Please, please, please stop calling it Port Fishington. Its is DUMB!”

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15. hairartiste said... on Jun 15, 2008 at 07:43AM

“Wow, that was harsh. As a vegan homeowner in the neighborhood for 6 years now, I am thrilled to not have to leave the neighborhood to get delicious food. Last week I had the BEST french toast I've ever had, and it was at Memphis Taproom. Their vegan chili is smoky and spicy and NOT glutinous, although I suppose if you don't like barley, you won't like it. Also, since day one, I have been excited about how many native Fishtowners I see there, and have remarked on more than one occasion how exciting it is to have a place to go locally where oldtimers and newbies can hang together (although I have also had this experience at the Rocket Cat). I think this restaurant reviewer should leave Fishtown alone and go review something in his own neighborhood because he obviously does NOT have his finger on the pulse of Fishtown.”

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16. Buddy said... on Jul 11, 2008 at 09:44AM

“The vegan food tastes like cardboard.”

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17. CC226 said... on Sep 16, 2008 at 01:24PM

“Great Great Great!! I loved this place!! ROCK ON!!”

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18. Stosh said... on May 11, 2009 at 03:14PM

“After eating here for the past year about 5 or 6 times. I have to say that it is incredibly inconsistent. The first time I went I had the fish and chips, and it was incredible, the second time I had it, it was inedible. And it has been rare that I get an entire meal that I enjoy. The fried chicken was great, but the mac and cheese tasted more like mustard, flour and cheese. And the fries should be renamed "greasy mashed potato shoots." The fried pickles are the only thing that is always good. Also, the service can be downright horrible. Drinks appear at random times. Somehow, iced-tea is always "being brewed right now" because it is impossible to get a glass. Other times I have felt like I walked into a private party. The first rule of serving is to treat every customer like a regular.”

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19. Anonymous said... on May 15, 2010 at 02:54PM

“I just ate the worst breakfast of my life at the Memphis Taproom. I ordered the Hangtown Fry and it tasted like it had been soaked in old cooking oil for a week. Even the bacon was disgusting, (which I didn't know was possible)!!! Do not eat here. Horrible food and completely overpriced.”

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20. Phila53 said... on Mar 2, 2011 at 07:29AM

“Want to settle this? Bring in Gordon Ramsay! He'll either give it a "thumbs up" or tear it a new hole!”

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21. HATE PORT RICHMOND WITH A PASSION said... on Mar 23, 2011 at 07:16PM

“Loved the food, the waitress was great, the place was friendly, the grub was deeeelish & the cost was super reasonable. I got the veggie burger, it was so darn yummy, and it tasted flame broiled. We split an order of batter dipped fried pickles, mmmmm so good. I would go back in a split second. the only down side was the small size of the tables. but that's a on issue really. this place ROCKS.”

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