A more casual dining experience, compelling beer and wine lists, and darn good food make us frequent visitors of gastro pubs. Thank goodness there's no shortage of them in Philadelphia. Since we often dine just the two of us, a gastro pub makes it seem like we are not on a private date by offering an inviting, friendly vibe.
On our gastro pub list for some time has been McCrossen’s Tavern in the Fairmount neighborhood. Frankly, we had never heard of the place until Craig LaBan’s review in October. If you have delayed trying McCrossen's for any reason, you should make plans to go soon.
McCrossen’s is as good as any gastro pub we’ve been to. We’ll still favor our own neighborhood joint, Pub & Kitchen, but the food and atmosphere puts McCrossen’s on our short list when friends want a recommendation or we want to venture out of our neighborhood.
Between the two us, we had the steamed clams, wild boar cavatelli, braised short rib, and almond tart. We licked the plate clean on each.
The steamed clams consist of a dozen littleneck clams in a red miso spicy crab broth. We quickly devoured them and had to think about who would get the last one (Kristy). The sauce has just enough spice and the garnish of scallions and lime was a flavorful addition.
One of the specials was wild boar cavatelli with moliterno cheese and rosemary. This dish was superb. The ground wild boar was plentiful so that you had some in every bite. It came in a sauce thick enough to feel like a mini-soup. It’s one of those dishes that you wish was bottomless. Perfect.
It’s difficult to think the short rib could top the cavatelli. Kristy said yes, I say we call it even. The short rib is braised in red wine, a flavor you could definitely taste, and served on a light, creamy celery root purée with royal trumpet mushrooms. The short rib was delectable and a healthy serving size.
Both main course dishes were so good that we can kept trading back and forth to eat try both.
We were not going to order a dessert, but our very pleasant waitress gave the almond tart a strong recommendation. We’re glad we listened. It was a good item to split between the two of us. This tart was soft and not too sweet, with a hint of almond that provided a nice conclusion to a solid meal.
The beer selection is also impressive and not overwhelmingly long. This is welcoming since some places have lists so big that it feels like an app store. Columnists always talk about how Apple has more than 500,000 apps, while competitors have much less. Is there anyone who can navigate 500K apps, let alone decide which ones to buy? Same goes for beer lists. Sometimes less can be more, otherwise you feel paralyzed or left worried you picked the wrong one.
McCrossen’s has about 12 beers on tap, which is plenty. Kristy enjoyed the Southern Tier Phin and Matt's, which the waitress compared to a slightly lighter Yuengling. I skipped the draft list and went with Sixpoint Crisp in a can, which is turning into one of my favorite brews.
Both of us enjoyed the atmosphere. It was close and intimate, yet casual enough that you could be loud and not risk the ire of a nearby diner. The bar area also had a good crowd that was not too loud for diners, partly because the bar is in an adjoining room to the main dining section.
We did a have few minor contentions. First, the dining area could use just a bit more light since the two of us sometimes struggled to see the menu. The waitress was also a tad quick to take our drinks and food away, a pet peeve of mine. Lastly, we could have used spoons and more bread throughout the meal to soak up all the sauce from the clams and cavatelli.
We’re told the chef, Townsend Wentz, changes the menu often so we'll be looking forward to trying something different when we visit again.