A few weeks ago, there was chaos in the Standard Tap kitchen.
Several cutting tables and storage shelves had been switched around, and prep cooks getting ready for a busy Saturday night were piled onto one side so co-owner Paul Kimport and some helpers could heave in and install a brand new cooking range and new flat-top grill on the other.
It was all because of Joel Mazigian, the first new chef at the Northern Liberties gastropub in 16 years.
“We’re reorganizing the line to better take advantage of his talents,” Kimport explained. “It’s very exciting.”
Co-owner William Reed agreed. “Joel’s been just crushing it.”
Back in 1999, when the two friends opened the bar, having an all-local beer list and a local-focused food menu was the exception, not the norm.
But in the two decades since, locavorism has become the driving trend of the restaurant industry — rare is the chef who doesn’t at least claim to source locally. Among better kitchens these days, there’s almost a “more local than thou” ethos as chefs compete to strengthen relationships with local farmers and make as much as possible from scratch.
So without marring the tavern’s welcoming neighborhood vibe with snootiness — “He’s extremely humble,” said Reed — and with full respect to the bar’s previous chef, Carolynn Angle, Mazigian is aiming to boost Standard Tap’s cred up a level.
How? By introducing whole animal butchering, for one.
In the three months he’s been running the show, Mazigian has brought in pheasants, ducks, hogs and lambs from NJ or Pennsylvania farmers. He breaks them down himself, making sure as little of the animal as possible goes to waste.
A pan-roasted duck breast is topped with confit of duck leg and a sauce made from bone stock, for example. His charcuterie plate now features only housemade meats, from country pork pate to lamb terrine made from offal, next to a pile of house-pickled root vegetables and a swipe of housemade mustard.
Mazigian’s braised brisket, an early crowd favorite, doesn’t come from a whole steer — “Not yet” — but the meat is from a Lancaster farm. It’s also one of the most tender and rich beef dishes in the city, served whole (not sliced) with a tumble of garlicky rabe and a swirl of sweet carrot puree.
Pastas are now made in-house, like the extremely delicate parsnip ravioli that comes drenched in sage brown butter and showered with just-grated cheese.
Mazigian, 32, is a native of North Dakota who went to culinary school in Rhode Island, cooked his way through Ireland, Germany and New Zealand, and landed in Philly in 2008. He refined his skills working in the Jose Garces orbit for three years, and picked up more knowledge during a stop at Pumpkin.
He ran the kitchen at Lemon Hill in Fairmount for a year and a half, exiting just before the owners abruptly pulled the plug and shut it down. He was at MilkBoy for a bit, but got bored with bar food. Same thing happened at his most recent gig, Franky Bradleys.
Last August is when he first began talking with Reed and Kimpton about being chef at their forthcoming third bar, in the former Shenanigans. But that project, while still planned, is in liquor license limbo. Mazigian was about to give up and look elsewhere, but then Angle announced she was leaving. He stepped in.
“Carolynn was wonderful, I loved her menus,” he said. “But she was very seafood-oriented. I’m more into meats.”
Vegetables are another thing Mazigian wants to increase focus on, although it’s tough in the winter when local purveyors are at the nadir of bounty. Come spring, though, he’ll likely add an entire new “vegetables” section to the chalkboard, which is currently broken up into “small,” “larger,” “sandwiches” and “sides.”
Speaking of the chalkboard, there’s a possibility that this year might see printed menus at Standard Tap for the first time ever.
“I love the flexibility,” Mazigian said, “but there’s eight or 10 items we pretty much never change. If we print those, it leaves me more room on the chalkboard for rotating specials. Just to play around.”