January 11, 2013 by Ali Swider
Standard Tap is a new breed of neighborhood tavern. It fulfills the basic standards — homey food, an unbelievably extensive selection of draft beers, the dull roar of happy patrons, and dim lighting. That being said, it is anything but basic. The foundational characteristics are certainly there, but Standard Tap then goes above and beyond. In other words, it takes the traditional tavern experience and marries it with the thoughtfully crafted fare of fine dining.One of the defining aspects of Standard Tap (though it seems to be a rising trend) is that the ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal. On that account, aside from serving mouthwatering food, the restaurant also promotes sustainability. Then again, that’s the musing of an environmental advocate.
The local sourcing was in no way limiting in variety. The only catch, however, is that the menu is only accessible by visiting the restaurant. Because the options are constantly changing based on the freshest available produce, proteins and complements, the menu and draft beer list are written on chalkboards.
Although this can send a person like me into a panic — I enjoy “researching” the restaurant’s offerings before my visit to make premeditated decisions — it proved to be refreshingly spontaneous. In most cases, the chalkboard only lists the protein portion of the dish and was otherwise without description, but the servers are eager to elaborate. Based on my experience, definitely ask questions. For instance, what was written as “Chicken Pie” was (as I guessed but was still unsure) chicken pot pie, which upon confirmation I ordered without hesitation. My dining partner made his decision in similar fashion after learning that the “Hunter’s Stew” was an ultimate meat-lovers’ chili.
Before digging into our entrees, though, we of course had to start with an appetizer or two. We agreed to split the Brussels sprouts and bacon platter and a small salad. While there was nothing too stellar about the salad, the Brussels sprouts would satisfy even the most indignantly anti-vegetable child. It was as if the sprouts embodied the bacon; they absorbed the mouthwatering flavor of the grease yet maintained the crunchiness of a perfectly charred strip of bacon. Needless to say, I claimed that appetizer as my own and left the underwhelming greens to my partner.
Thankfully, the entrees followed suit with the Brussels sprouts more so than the salad (although my dish came with another side of unappealing lettuce). In the end, we came to the consensus that my chicken pie was the better of the two, but that in no way belittles the Hunter’s Stew. The flaky pastry formed a fun clover-shaped shell around a mixture of shredded chicken — and the shredded texture was an appreciated change from cubed or diced — carrots, peas, potatoes and gravy. On second thought, it’s difficult to compare this dish to the stew.
The Hunter’s Stew features practically every meat on the market: beef, duck, rabbit antelope and others, which combine into a thick, rich chili along with beans, tomatoes and other vegetables. Then top it off with toasted bread crumbs and a baguette on the side, and you have a dinner fit for a hunter. The only complaint, which is slightly counterintuitive if ordering the dish, is that the amount and variety of meat overshadowed the flavor nuances typical of a stew.
In any case, both meals were satisfying, but naturally we made a conscious effort to save room for dessert. These options were also written on the chalkboard and were equally fresh and seasonal. My accomplice and I were torn between the peanut butter fudge brownie sundae and the apple dumpling, but we eventually settled on the latter — thank goodness. While the entire meal was a “wow,” this dessert was the highlight. In short, it was traditional and simple yet unbelievably flavorful. Even though I’m a sucker for the combination of warm and cold components (vanilla ice cream melted by steaming cinnamon apples), it is certainly a crowd-pleaser.
If the welcoming exterior — a multi-storied hybrid of a farmhouse and a tavern — is not enough incentive, then the belly-warming food and unique array of draft beers should persuade you that Standard Tap is definitely worth a visit. The commute is simple: Take the Market-Frankford Line to Spring Garden Station, enjoy the pleasant streets (most of which are cobbled) of Northern Liberties and stop at the corner of 2nd and Poplar streets to try what has been awarded in reviews and general press as one of Philadelphia’s best restaurants.