Sunday, March 01, 2009

Memphis Taproom

Last night the kids headed to their cousins' for the night so we headed out for dinner!

I was in a beer mood and looking for something outside our normal Center City haunts.  I have been hearing good things about Memphis Taproom for a while now, so we headed over the Betsy Ross Bridge and ventured into "Port Fishington," an area north of Northern Liberties, east of Kensington and South of Port Richmond.  It was worth the trip into the unknown.

We got a parking spot right across Cumberland Street and headed into the packed corner bar.  The front room is dominated by the 12 seat bar, but also features two high top tables an a wonderful floor of one inch square tiles.  When we went it, the room was comfortably full.  When we left it was packed to the gills with folks who really, really wanted to sit down.

You pass though the barroom to the tightly-fitted 30 seat dining area.  We had the worst seat in the house, in the middle of the room, between two aisles , the waiter station and another tiny 2 top.  It got tighter when a woman sat at the table to my right and insisted on pushing her seat back into the aisle, forcing all passersby to bump into our table on the way by.  No amount of cajolery by the waitstaff could get her to move her chair in.  I spoke as loudly as possible about rude people who sit in the aisle, but alas it's a pretty loud room.

The wide pine floors bow and creak in a homey way and the overhead spots pointed up some basic art on the walls.  The menu is quite clear that if you are sitting you need to be eating and the waitress clearly tried to move another party along when they were lingering over drinks before ordering. 

If it seems like I am spending a lot of time describing the room that's because I had plenty of time to observe it.  Our waiter Chris was personable, but it took him a good 5 minutes to take our drink orders.  I started with the Sly Fox Dunkel Lager, which was oddly thin and a bit musty.  My partner in this, and many other, adventures, had a sweet-sour PBC Walt Wit.  After delivering the drinks, Chris was attentive, but there were clearly some kitchen issues. 

Our appetizers took 25 minutes, but the aisle-sitter and her laptop-pecking companion got theirs in about 5.  One of the wait staff asked another to put a change into the kitchen because she was 'scared to go in there.'  Whatever problems they were having didn't affect the quality of the food, and in the end, the food made the night.

I had deep-fried dill pickles as an appetizer.  It was a small bowl of 5 large sour dill pickles coated in the most delicious golden crunchiness you can imagine.  Super hot and very filling, these were a big hit.  Unless you looked at the half inch of accumulated oil in the bottom of the dish.  I paired the pickles with a Yards Love Stout off the beer engine.  It was flavorful and smooth with a thick head, but had a hard time standing up to the tang of the dish.  My hottie had sweet onion rings. sliced thin and battered up nicely.  The side dip was billed as 'suicide' but wasn't very hot at all.  Maybe they were talking about what eating the whole thing would do to your heart.  The appetizers are share-sized.  Two was overkill, but what the heck?

Dinner arrived before we could finish the starter course, but that's probably just as well for my cholesterol count.  I decided to pay homage to my Polish roots and plowed through the Port Richmond Platter of grilled kielbasa, fried pierogies, and deep fried potato pancakes.  The sausage was about 9 inches long and crispy on the outside, wonderfully flavored and pleasantly chewy.  The handmade pierogies were topped with caramelized onions and were miles form Mrs. T's.  The potato 'pancakes' were really deep fired potato cakes and were reminiscent of a McDonald's hash brown.  Nice texture and saltiness, but not much flavor otherwise.

My raven-haired beauty went with my first choice, the Mahi-Mahi Moqueca.  While it didn't live up to the spicy nature of its Brazilian namesake, it did have overcooked mahi-mahi swimming in briny brown stew.  The sliced baby potatoes were the most satisfying part of the dish.  I'm glad I stayed with my roots. 

The bathroom is shoehorned into the edge of the front barroom and locks with an old-school latch.  It features what I call a 'strip club sink.'  You know the one where the place is required to have a sink, so they buy the smallest basin known to man and put a faucet on it that POURS water out and nearly splashes the front of your pants.  Luckily it also has the most amazing hand dryer in the world.

When we dared waiter Chris to spill a drink on the aisle sitter in exchange for a triple tip, he politely asked how he could make it up to us.  An awesomely flavored carrot cake on the house went a long way.  It was a bit dry, but reminded me of the old Sunshine Raisin Biscuits.  The date loved the thick cream cheese icing.  I paired it with a Pennichuck St. Florian Double Bock which was malty and a bit fruity, not bad.

Overall this place is about a 3 out of 5 on my scale.  The appetizers were excellent and the beer selection and my entree were very good.  The food delivery times were off though and the mahi-mahi dish was below average.  Even the very tasty and free dessert was off a bit, just a bit too dry.  One note on the menu - there is plenty to eat if you aren't into fried stuff, including a selection of vegetarian AND vegan items as well as some salads that looked wonderful.

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