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Monday, June 02, 2008

The Memphis Taproom

As the edges of up-and-coming neighborhoods continue to expand and blur, it should be no surprise to find a gastropub up on the border of Fishtown and Port Richmond. I doubt the folks behind the Memphis Taproom use that term, they call it a "neighborhood kitchen and taproom" and while it's true enough that the menu is unpretentious and approachable, the ingredients and preparations indicate serious attention to the food. I kind of doubt that bufala mozzarella imported from Italy and vegan Seitan BBQ sandwiches are on the menus at too many other spots in the neighborhood...

Memphis Taproom strikes a good balance, with an esoteric yet approachable beer list and food that's both familiar and exotic. I don't see Cornish Pasties, Kielbasa or Rarebit on nearly enough bar menus, and this place makes me wonder why.

While perusing the menu, we enjoyed a couple draft beers, including an excellent Troeg's HopBack from the hand-pump. Then we started with a special of the day: imported bufala mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and pesto. The tomatoes actually had flavor (on June 1st!) and the cheese was so creamy, it was hard to understand how it was maintaining a solid form.

The Pasties are an absolutely perfect bar snack: a light, flaky pastry filled with tender beer-braised beef, accented with a creamy horseradish sauce. Really, it's worth a trip just for these. Seriously, you should stop reading and get up there and order some pasties. Thank me later. Along with the Khyber's Pretzel Dog, this is one of those items that, in a perfect world, would be on every bar menu in town. Although in both cases it comes down to execution, and these are done beautifully. The wrappers are crisp and not greasy, the filling juicy and bursting with flavor. I might have liked a more aggressive horseradish kick from the sauce, but I'm a little masochistic that way. Even with the proliferation of empanadas around town, I'd say these are the best meat-stuffed pastries I've had in a while. I'm not sure whether to include Chinese pan-fried dumplings in this comparison, but these were good enough to even give the best of those some competition.

A special of celery root soup was intriguing. I worried it might be a little too hearty and wintery for what was a warm sunny afternoon, but what arrived in the bowl was actually surprisingly light, and infused with more celery flavor than I'd expected. I have to assume some of the tops were incorporated along with the root, giving a fresh, bright, green edge to the earthier root-vegetable flavors. It could have been served a little hotter, and I might have liked some bread alongside it, but those are minor quibbles.

One of the things that drew me to the Memphis Taproom on this particular day was the promise of the Port Richmond Platter. Recognizing the adjoining neighborhood's Polish population, this platter combines Kielbasa from Czerws, potato-filled pierogies, deep-fried potato pancakes and saurkraut. It's just about the perfect thing to eat while drinking beer, especially because each ingredient is so high quality. The pierogies are light and tender, dressed with perfectly sweet caramelized onions. The pancakes (perhaps too spherical to really be called pancakes, but we'll let it slide) are crispy outside and fluffy within, the kraut is fresh and tart. And the sausage... it's just an excellent product, simply split and grilled, and that's all you could ever ask for. Some good mustard is provided, but I rarely applied it, the sausage was so good on its own.

We also tried the Chicken Fried Chicken. The name is a little too logically circular for me - chicken made in the style of chicken-fried-steak, which is steak made in the style of fried chicken - aren't we back to "fried chicken?" This version is made with boneless breast meat, so I suppose it's not traditional fried chicken, but it's missing the creamy gravy that says "chicken-fried steak" to me. Regardless, it's very juicy, tasty chicken, with a good crisp crust, a mild red chile mayo underneath.

The biscuit and macaroni salad were undistinguished, but the greens were outstanding, with a bit of spice adding to their hearty flavor. I'd order this again, and maybe try to get an extra helping of greens... I wonder if we could talk them into offering the greens as a side order? And I'm still picturing this chicken with a cream gravy, and imagining that it would be pretty awesome like that. Still it's good as-is, I really should move past my general belief that gravy is good on most anything.

We were a little too stuffed with keilbasy to even think about desserts (that Port Richmond Platter is bigger than it looks in the photo!) but the Key Lime Tart sounded appealing for some reason. I'm glad we decided to indulge, it was very good, with excellent lime flavor complimented by freshly toasted almonds on top. (Note to purists: notice how it's not green? Finally, someone who makes key lime tart with real key limes, or at least real juice...)

Overall, we were very impressed by the Memphis Taproom. It's a lovely space, nicely renovated with a modern, but still pub-like feel. The beer selection is excellent, and the food is just as good. It's certainly worth the trip up to "Port Fishington" as they're calling that border zone between Fishtown and Port Richmond.

Memphis Taproom
2331 E. Cumberland St (at Memphis)
Food from 11:30am-Midnight, 7 days


  1. Thanks for being the first local food blogger to snap some pictures at the Memphis Taproom. I've been dying to see some photographic evidence of all the good things I've heard about the food.

  2. mod*betty11:35 AM

    Philadining- your photos are wonderful and your descriptions inspiring--- too bad I was reading this while I ate my less than inspiring lunch in my cube! Thanks for the reminder that there's real food, good food, out there!

  3. Hi e and mod*betty, thanks for the kind words! It really is a cool place, all the food we tried was quite good. I was afraid that it was really in the middle of nowhere, but it's actually pretty fast to get to if you're driving. And unlike the neighborhoods of most of the gastropubs in Philly, I was able to find parking...

    oh, and m*b, I'm making it my mission to taunt you with good food - I'm surprised I haven't run into you in Wasko's! That prime rib sandwich is crazy... the first time I got it, when the guy asked if I wanted onions and barbecue sauce, I was taken by surprise, and just said OK somewhat reflexively. When I heard the weird spurting sounds from a bottle of store-bought sauce, I was afraid I'd made a big mistake. But it's inexplicably good, isn't it?

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand: the Memphis Taprroom's pasties..and the kielbasa... totally worth the trip...

  4. Philadining, dang it. Reading your posts, I feel so constrained living in Phili sans car. It sounds like there are number of great restaurants outside of the city area.

    So I'm going to show my ignorance here. If I was going to sell my friends (with a car) on trying this place out, how would I describe the food? German-influenced? Polish? A mix? (I'm really not well-versed with any of the foods that you mentioned, besides bastardized versions of kielbasa.)

  5. Greetings comrade...

    I don't think it would be too difficult to get here on public transit, it's still in the city proper, just a little out of the main center city concentration of bars and restaurants. From their directions page:

    Take the #25 bus. You can get it at the Spring Garden EL stop or at Frankford and Girard. It will drop you off at Cedar and Cumberland Streets, one block east of us. Going towards Center City, you can get the #25 bus right on our corner.

    As for the menu, no, I wouldn't call it German or Polish, there's just a touch of that, a nod to the large Polish neighborhood in Port Richmond. It's mostly contemporary pub fare, with a surprising number of vegetarian/vegan options. There's a burger, a vegan BLT, fish and chips, chili, etc... Check out the menus:

    It's not a HUGE menu, but I'm confident most anyone could find something to eat.

    Also, they do brunch on saturdays and sundays, noon-5pm. The late part of that fits my sunday schedule pretty well...

  6. Anonymous2:02 PM

    The Port Richmond Platter is a disgrace to Port Richmond. If you want Polish food, go to Port Richmond, not "Port Fishington." (Their name, not mine.) I recommend Syrenka on Richmond. The kielbasa I had at the Tap Room was maybe one step above Hillshire farms. And was turned into beef jerky by the cook. My family is from Poland, and I have been to parts all over Eastern Europe, and never once encountered what the Taproom called a "potato pancake." I actually complained to the waitress that my pancakes were missing. She had to point them out to me. I would have prefered a hash brown from McDonalds. To me, the Port Richmond platter was the equivalent of getting a Philly Cheesesteak in Iowa. It might be good if you have never had a real cheesesteak.

  7. Sorry you didn't like the Port Richmond Platter, but unless they've changed their sourcing for the kielbasa, you're really dissing Czerws, which is a pretty well-regarded Port Richmond institution. And while I'll agree that the potato pancakes weren't all that pancake-like, I thought they were pretty tasty...

    That said, this is a pub/taproom, not a Polish restaurant, so I think you might be judging them a little too strictly! I thought the opportunity to have some good keilbasa and pierogies, sourced from legit nearby sources, while drinking a craft brew, was pretty great.