Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Was Gastropub Before Gastropub Was Cool.

Just got an e-mail from Lew Bryson that told of the passing of a mutual friend of ours, the very talented chef Larry Melissen. Larry toiled as a baker for Jamison's Bakery and for the famous chef Paul Roller at Roller's restaurant in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill, and used to join Roller for a late night after work beer at McMenamin's Tavern in nearby Mt Airy, and came to know owner PJ McMenamin and the crew there. Larry was a baker at heart, and eventually, as PJ was refining and upgrading the food at McMenamin's, asked Larry if he could bake some desserts for the place. And when the tavern lost its chef, Larry stepped in and never looked back, taking McMenamin's for nearly 10 years where it never could have imagined itself, upscale dining in a neighborhood tavern setting. We call it "gastropub" food now, but back then there wasn't a term for it. But it was some spectacular cooking. Brilliant, multiple-award-winning hot wings. Deftly done pastas, surprising seafood creations, even petit filet mignon, alongside fish & chips and Irish lamb stew and burgers.

But I remember stopping in one night with our friend Bob Rescinito, who was visiting from Oklahoma City, and there on the specials menu were "Beggars's Purses in Sage Cream," pasta stuffed with wild mushrooms. "Just something I threw together at the last minute with some leftover dough," Larry said when he stopped by our table to chat. They were exquisitely delicate pinched pasta bundles in a light toss of sauce. It was a loud, raucous Friday night in Mt Airy, and the airy pasta played perfectly off the bitter IPAs we were drinking. The juxtaposition made no sense at the time, but it made perfect sense to Larry, and his instincts were spot on. I had one of the most intensely creative, memorable meals I've ever had in a pub that night, several years before it would become trendy. Lew Bryson had a similar, eye-opening experience, and he recalls Melissen's work on his blog.

I wrote about Larry online on Prodigy and eGullet back then, and profiled him and a couple of other chefs for an article in the Philadelphia Daily News in 2006, about chefs who work in tiny kitchens.

But Larry was so much more than a big burly chef who worked in a tiny kitchen (but it was an amazing sight to see, Larry and a staff of 3 dancing in just under 70 square feet of space!). Larry was a quiet, confident visionary. A big friendly bear. And a very generous and talented man.
Godspeed, Larry.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Rare Plug

Today is the occasion for a very very rare plug from me, and believe me, I don't plug. I try to use this blog to clue followers to events and beers and the important things in my kids' lives, but here is as enthusiastic a recommendation as I can give:

Buy Lew Bryson's book.

This time around, Lew Bryson's book is the FOURTH edition of his landmark first tome, Pennsylvania Breweries, and it's a dramatically revamped and revised version of what has always been one of the best beer reads ever written. Bryson's writing, to me, has always been compelling stuff, and Pennsylvania Breweries proves it with crisp writing, insider info on many of the state's breweries and excellent travel and food tips. And best of all: his beer descriptions will have your thirsting for the brews he writes about. Impressive stuff. And you can follow his book signing travels right on his blog, Seen Through a Glass.

Here's hoping you'll catch one of his appearances and join him for a beer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hop Angel Has Its Wings

After an enthusiastically tweeted soft opening last week, Hop Angel Bruahaus officially opened yesterday for dinner only, with lunch service to follow in a few weeks. The place looks pretty sharp, too, a clever mix of new and old Teutonica (photos courtesy of Thrillist.com).

The authentically titled menu is a lean but well chosen overview of German munchies and platters, and the pricing makes the Hop Angel an easy night out for dinner, with appetizers from $5-14 (for a variety plate of hams, sausage, salami and cheese) and entrees from $14 (Wiener schnitzel and meatloaf)-$22 (a platter of bratwurst, pork shank and smoked pork chops!).

Oh, and the beer: 12 taps of German and German-style micros, meticulously updated daily on the Hop Angel's website. I counted 3 Oktoberfests, an altbier from Manayunk Brewpub, a rauchbier from Sly Fox and (oh baby) Kostrizer. Prices might look higher than Center City, but read the list carefully: you're getting a half liter of brew in most cases. Keepin' it real in Fox Chase.

They're already planning an Oktoberfest celebration on October 2. Knowing co-owners Scoats and Pat, it will be a blowout bash. See you there!

Hop Angel Brauhaus

Philadelphia, PA 19111-2285

Monday, September 20, 2010


This year's Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has just concluded in Denver, CO. It was the 29th year for GABF and it hosted the largest number of brewers (455), served the largest number of beers (2,200) and welcomed the greatest number of attendees (49,000) in its history.

Both a festival and a competition, GABF awards medals in 79 categories. I always look foreward to the list of winners, and especially for the terrific names that brewers give some of their beers. This year I came away disappointed for a couple of reasons. The Philadelphia area, with exception of a gold medal for Stoudt's Brewery, two medals for Triumph Old City and several for Iron Hill Brewpubs in the region, didn't have a great showing this year, medal-wise. And the names of the medal-winning brews this year were not very clever or imaginative. Ah well, creativity was spent on the beers, I guess.

Here is the list of winners from this year's competition. Hope some of your favorites took home some metal.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kindergarten Kids

Summer has come and gone so quickly this time around. Despite my heavy but inconsistent workload, I still managed to stop by most evenings when the twins took swimming lessons at the local community pool. I was even able to watch as they "graduated" with medals and jumps off the diving board into 12 ft. water, utterly fearlessly. Daddy so proud.

Last week Ben and Sophie started kindergarten and I've never seen them so excited. I think even they had started to tire of the sweltering summer days, and were searching for something new to stimulate them. My kids actually like going to school!
Daddy even prouder.