Memphis Taproom: Fishtown Foodways Grow Up

Fishtowners rejoice- you have a new hangout.  The new Memphis Taproom [where: 19125] opened this week at the corner of Memphis and Cumberland, and Joe and I went to check it out last night.

It’s a simple spot– a bar, a small dining room, wooden floors and lighted glass blocks for decoration.  The menu, too, is simple: hot appetizers, salads, sandwiches and platters, with an excellent selection of local beers on tap and reasonably priced bottles.  The food is straightforward– burgers, fried chicken, sandwiches– but it’s clear that chef Jesse Kimball, formerly of Center City’s Matyson, knows what he’s doing.  There are little creative twists on each dish that make this bar food into something special.  Jacket potatoes come with real, aged cheddar, not the canned stuff; steak frites are tinged with garlic and served with a light arugula salad and excellent fries.  Fish and chips can be ordered with fish, or with miso-marinated battered tofu.  The hot appetizers are substantial enough to satisfy late-night drinkers, and the meal portions are filling without the giant-plate excess offered at so many Philly restaurants.  Joe’s pulled-pork sandwich was a toasted roll filled with smoky, tender pork, spicy barbecue sauce and an inventive smoked coleslaw.

Memphis Taproom has only been open for four days, so some of the kinks are still being worked out: not all of the beers we ordered were actually available yet, and desserts, brunch and the late-night menu aren’t up and running yet.  Still, there’s no question that this will be a regular hangout for Fishtown locals and neo-Fishtown hipsters alike– they were represented in just about equal numbers when we visited.  It’s a balance that many local businesses find difficult to strike, and Memphis Taproom is succeeding so far: enticing hipsters with retro decor, lots of vegetarian and vegan options, and a sophisticated beer menu, while also making longtime locals feel welcome with reasonable prices, tasty interpretations of local classics like pirogies and Polish sausage (a dish that’s close to my Pittsburgh heart) and an unpretentious atmosphere.  (No cheesesteaks on the menu, though.)

The Taproom’s website says that Kimball is “currently studying the foodways of America’s inner cities,” and he’s certainly picked a good place to do that.  I for one am looking forward to walking down the street and sampling his interpretations of Philly cuisine on a regular basis.  Especially those steak frites.

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The Gadget Wall: Pot Roast and Moroccan Chicken Stew in the Slow Cooker.

Certain things happen when you get married. Your parents cry. You learn way more than you ever wanted to know about ring sizes. You learn a lot about your relationship. You explore many ways of answering the question ‘So when are you having a baby?’ (We’ll have to get back to you on that, nebnose.) And at the end of it all, you’re left with lots of photos, lots of memories, and lots and lots of kitchen appliances.

This is probably even more true if you are known to be foodies. Joe and I met working at the late, great Lechters Housewares, received all sorts of coffee makers, flatware, and slow cookers, among other gifts, from our wonderful and generous friends and family. We love gadgets, and we both subscribe to Alton Brown’s Unitasker Theory: the only unitasker allowed in our kitchen is the fire extinguisher. (OK, and maybe that awesome stovetop coffeepot Paola brought us from Lebanon.)

Fortunately, the slow cooker is versatile. Stew? Sauce? A whole chicken? Check, check and check. Our thoughtful friends Peter and Cat gave us not only a spiffy slow cooker, but also The Slow Cooker Ready & Waiting Cookbook: 160 Sumptuous Meals that Cook Themselves by Rick Rodgers. Like many cookbooks organized around a gadget, this one pulls recipes from every corner of the globe and adapts them for American tastes. I’m generally skeptical of this approach, but after two really, really delicious meals, I have to admit that Rick knows what he’s doing.

Both recipes are deceptively simple. The recipes are long, and aimed at beginner cooks, with instructions like ‘turn on the slow cooker’– so I’ll summarize them here but add a few notes. My main criticism is that these recipes go too light on the seasonings– feel free to load up on your spices and aromatics. Also, he seems to be a fan of canned broths. I use them sometimes, but try to stick to fresh– the sodium levels in canned broth are ridiculous, and they tend to be full of additives. The pot roast recipe is gluten-free, if GF beer is used; the chicken stew is dairy free, and also GF if served with rice or quinoa instead of couscous. Read the rest of this entry »

News you can use, from sushi to booze

-Asian chefs and kitchen workers are on strike in Israel. The Israeli government, which initially brought the chefs in as part of a move to replace Palestinian workers during the first Intifada, has decided it no longer wants them. Instead, they plan to train Israelis to cook Asian food instead. Two wrongs make a bad meal.

-In happier and more local news, the latest fruit of gentrification in Fishtown has arrived in the form of the Memphis Taproom. It’s a new bar that promises to serve tasty local food and, according to the Philadelphia City Paper, “a sizable American craft selection in addition to Belgian, German and English brews.” And for this transplanted Pittsburgher, it gets even better: “It would be pretty much a sin not to have really good pierogies and really nice kielbasa,” says co-owner Brendan Hartranft. All this, and it’s right down the street? I can’t wait until this place opens, in April. Oh, and they’ve promised to keep prices down. Sweet. [where: 19125]

-It’s the most wonderful time of the year… the Philly Craft Beer Festival is coming up!

-A Columbia University study finds that body image is a better predictor of health than obesity. Furthermore, the results seem to suggest that discrimination and body-based oppression and the stress associated with them have a bigger impact on fat people’s health than the weight itself:

“Our data suggest that some of the obesity epidemic may be partially attributable to social constructs that surround ideal body types,” said Peter Muennig, MD, MPH, Mailman School of Public Health assistant professor of Health Policy and Management. “Younger persons, Whites, and women are disproportionately affected by negative body image concerns, and these groups unduly suffer from BMI-associated morbidity and mortality.”

…There is evidence that discrimination against heavy people is pervasive, occurring in social settings, the workplace, and the home. These processes are likely internalized, leading to a negative body image that also may serve as a source of chronic stress.

“The data add support to our hypothesis that the psychological stress that accompanies a negative body image explains some of the morbidity commonly associated with being obese. Our finding that the desire to lose weight was a much stronger predictor of unhealthy days than was BMI further suggests that perceived difference plays a greater role in generating disease,” said Dr. Muennig.

Interesting findings indeed. And if you’re trying to feel a little more sane about what you eat and how you feel about your body, check out this post about intuitive eating over at Shapely Prose.

-Good article on the Bush administration’s linguistic sleight-of-hand when it comes to food safety, from Gourmet.com’s regular feature Politics of the Plate.

-Finally, I’m told that shellfish are particularly sweet and lovely this time of year. Mario Batali’s recipe for crab tortelloni with scallions and poppy seeds might have to be our fancy, splurge-y meal for the week. There’s nothing like good crabmeat treated well. I used to turn down homemade crab cakes during my picky-eater childhood; I could kick myself for doing that now!

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Six Month Anniversary Dinner: Fall Spiced Pork Chops with Spinach and Apple; Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

Sarah and I celebrated our six-month anniversary of marriage with a nice dinner and some wonderful home-brewed beer made by Sarah’s best friend Kara, which we aged for six months.

I was inspired by Ida Mae’s Bruncherie to do a fall pork chop dish. Theirs is applewood smoked but I do not have a smoker, so I had to improvise a bit. Earlier in the day we went to the Headhouse Market and bought two thick grass fed pork chops, some apples, heirloom tomatoes, some raw milk Parmesan cheese and some spinach.

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Bar Ferdinand: Tops in Tapas

Sarah and I love tapas. Eating samples from multiple plates is our favorite way to eat. You can relax, take your time and enjoy the food, what you’re drinking and good conversation. A number of months ago we tried Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties. It was great and it had just opened recently. We went back a week ago and had an equally great, if not better experience.

First off, Bar Ferdinand is open late. They serve dinner until midnight and the bar is open until 2AM. What’s more, they have a late-night happy hour between 9PM and 11PM. Normally, this means $3 sangrias and $4 draught beers. The beer selection is very good, featuring Belgians and microbrews. The wine list is extensive with a nice amount of selections by the glass. One of the things we miss about New York is the ability to get good meals late in the evening. Bar Ferdinand satisfies this need for us.

On to the food.

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Beneluxx Tasting Room: School is IN!

Beneluxx is an unabashedly educational bar, devoted to teaching its customers/students to appreciate fine beer, wine, cheese and chocolate. These are the four food groups as far as Joe and I are concerned, so we were excited when we sought out this recently opened below-ground bar on a rainy Friday night. Mind you, this doesn’t take away from the fun.

The offerings fall into those four categories, plus a page of small dishes such as fondue, crepes, salads and pizzas. The menu gives detailed descriptions of all of its offerings and suggests some pairings (wine/cheese, beer/cheese, wine/chocolate, etc.). Better yet, it offers tasting sizes of its offerings, which encourages customers to try new beers, wines and cheeses, compare their flavors, and experiment with their own pairings. (And the tasting sizes come in beakers! Cute.) If you’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about wine and cheese, this is a great place to start.

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