Great beer and great bites

Have Belgian, German, even Mexican with your quality craft brew: Pubs, bars, bier halls, bistros are bubbling up all over the region.

Posted: May 26, 2010

With permission granted from our better halves, the only thing cooler than a simple "guys' night out" is a "guys' night" splashed in craft beer. The hardest part in this brew-obsessed region, where the ale flows from South Street to South Jersey in stupefying variety - from hipster gastropubs to Belgian mussel bars, a German brat hall, and even a brunch spot awash in growler drafts - is simply choosing where to begin. Consider it scouting for "girls' night out," too. Great beer is a gift with equal-opportunity appeal.

BLUE MONKEY TAVERN

(Not yet formally rated)

South Jersey's brew scene may be stifled by mega-expensive liquor licenses and chains wallowing in mass-market beer, but the Blue Monkey Tavern is an ale lover's oasis. The updated fare in the former Collins House has highs (the blue cheese-stuffed burger) and lows (sandy clams). But the brews should score with any beer geek, including 47 bottles and 38 draft choices ranging from Belgian Tripel Karmeliet to Jersey's own genuine turnpike triple, Flying Fish's Exit 4, whose clovey pineapple finish is as aromatic, exotic and as full of possibilities as the nearby on-ramp itself.

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BRAUHAUS SCHMITZ

Brush up your umlauts over a glass of Köstritzer and a meter of house-made Nürnberger brats at this hopping South Street bier hall, where Philly's dwindling German tradition has gotten a welcome (albeit noisy) revival. The menu is traditionally heavy but authentically tasty and well made. The beer list offers the city's most comprehensive German selection. And don't let the kitschy dirndls fool you - these fräuleins are some of the best bar servers in town.

DEVIL'S DEN

(Not yet rerated)

Gastropubs have become a South Philly specialty, and this one has the potential to be among the best, with a cutting-edge beer list, breezy cafe windows, good bar TVs for sports fans, and a cozy fireplace dining room for those who just want to sip and hang. A long-disappointing kitchen has finally gotten an upgrade with new chef Alex Ureña, whose menu brings finesse to items ranging from sophisticated (bacon-wrapped dates; pickled ramps) to fun (barbecue braised pork flatbread) to stellar mussel-pot variations abetted by what may be among the best classic fries in town.

HAWTHORNE'S

(Not yet formally rated)

Whoever thought drinking shouldn't begin before noon hasn't yet brunched at Hawthorne's, the charming new cafe and take-out beer paradise in the former Bella Vista beer distributorship in South Philly. Order a laid-back meal of bananas Foster waffles, freshly creamed chipped beef, artisan cheese, or south-of-the-border eggs, then scan the growler draft list or the fridge-packed singles for a perfect match. More than 1,000 different craft bottles, and a jolly brunch, await

JOSE PISTOLAS

(Not yet formally rated)

Philly's got plenty of Belgian taverns - but Belgian taverns with good burritos? Quirky Jose Pistolas is one of the few, channeling the good-beer karma of its cramped bilevel space (formerly Copa Too) with a focus on Mexican street-food updates, from chile-dusted shrimp tacos (with a chalice of Allagash White) to hearty burritos stuffed with slow-cooked pork carnitas (with a hoppy draft of Houblon Chouffe).

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MEMPHIS TAPROOM

The early avant-garde beer bars of the northern 'hoods (Standard Tap in Northern Liberties, Grey Lodge Pub in the Northeast) found a kindred craft pioneer in Kensington when this aging taproom was transformed into a gentrifying gastropub two years ago. The recent raids by the PLCB, on a clumsy hunt for unregistered exotic beer, only bolstered Memphis' cred among beer hipsters, who come for drafts of sour Rodenbach Grand Cru with their deep-fried pickles. The kitchen, meanwhile, continues to refine a repertoire that ranges from drop-dead decadent (fried pork belly with spaetzle; crawfish croquettes; local kielbasa platters) to the inventive vegan virtues of a smoked-coconut club.

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The Main Line has gone Belgian at this handsome mussel and brew house attached to popular Teresa's Cafe in Wayne. The 30-tap bar (with several nitro and hand-pumped options) and huge bottle list are a serious beer drinker's dream, with high-octane craft rarities like Damnation, Kasteel Tripel, and vintage Stone Old Guardian barley wine. An earlier menu bent toward Mexican flavors has faded slightly, it seems, in favor of more traditional beer bistro fare, with grilled meats and mussels, great frites, sausage plates, and serious artisan cheese. I


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