You’re going to want the fried chicken sandwich at the new Yards Brewing taproom.
Made with thigh meat that’s slow-baked in a confit, then battered and fried to a golden crisp before being gilded with buttermilk ranch, it’s been the menu’s top seller during the month the venue at Fifth and Spring Garden has been open, according to opening chef Jim Burke.
So you’ll probably want to order it when you visit — but you might not be able to. By 7:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday evening, the fried chicken sandwich was entirely sold out.
That’s not because Burke isn’t a good kitchen manager. He’s got tons of experience, including running NYC restaurants for Stephen Starr, teaching at Drexel’s culinary school, handling food for the huge first season of Morgan’s Pier and operating his own spot in Bella Vista for five solid years. It’s because the new Yards taproom has been a hit, busier than anyone imagined.
Unexpectedly chicken-hungry as it might have been, last Tuesday’s throng barely filled half the giant room, which offers two dozen barstools and another 200 seats at raised wall-side banquettes and polished beer hall picnic tables. It’s weekends that’ve been really crazy.
Every Friday and Saturday so far, the entire room has been packed — to the point where there’s sometimes a line to enter. On occasion, the wait has stretched to an hour long.
“It’s not that we don’t want to let people in,” said Yards founder Tom Kehoe. “We’re not pulling some exclusivity move. It’s a fire code thing.”
All this and the place isn’t even finished yet. The massive new brewhouse and packaging facility, visible through floor-to-ceiling windows that make up two entire taproom walls, is still under construction. Tours, which will run every day, aren’t expected to start until February. The outdoor beer garden, set beneath the giant fermenters balanced along the building’s north side, won’t open till spring.
Some little things aren’t complete, either. Bike racks, for one.
“I know, we need bike racks,” said Yards partner and COO Trevor Pritchett, noting people are locking up to the crosshatch steel fence in front of the future outdoor seating area. “Hey, that’s a special fence!” he joked. “It cost extra to have them put those rippled ‘waves’ in the metal. They did it by hand.”
But in general, Prichett and Kehoe are of course thrilled with the initial response. So what’s drawing the crowds? Here’s a few guesses.
When you look at the difference between the old and new facilities on a map, they don’t seem very different. They’re just over half a mile apart, and on the same exact latitude.
But in practice, being smack in the middle of the city grid is very different from being cordoned off on the far side of Delaware Avenue. Fifth and Spring Garden is a five-minute bike ride from either Center City or Fishtown — and a convenient stopping off place if you’re traveling between the two.
A couple of Old City bar managers have expressed dismay that the taproom would steal some of their business, especially because it’s open later than the old spot, through 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. weekends. But the Yards location is not in the thick of the historic district, so it’s unlikely people will stumble on it without looking.
In fact, Yards being busy has been a boon for Silk City, located across the street. “They get a big rush [at 11 p.m.] when we close our doors,” said a Yards bartender. “They love us being here.”
About half the customers at the new taproom have been locals, per several staff members, and half from out of town.
On a recent weekday night one side of the bar had a couple from Atlantic City — “It was either come here or Cape May Brewing, and we wanted to see the new place.” On the other side was a couple up from Baltimore. They’d come for a visit because of Yards Brewing’s reputation, it turned out, and weren’t even aware the location was new.
Games and events
There’s more to do at the new taproom than just eat and drink.
Off the side of the main dining area is a game room stocked with pool tables and other bartime activities, all of them free. The room has garage doors that roll down so it can been reserved for private events. (Larger events can be held at the ballroom-size area on the second floor mezzanine. Per Kehoe, several weddings and holiday parties have already been booked.)
Then there’s the flatscreen TVs that swaddle every side of the rectangular front bar. They make the space feel slightly less homey and comfortable than the old taproom was, but certainly turn the new spot into a killer place to watch big games
Foie gras poutine
As befits a brewery (where tipsy patrons are a given), Burke’s food menu is full of indulgences, but none reads as gratuitous as the foie gras poutine. Cheesy gravy fries are decadent enough — did he really need to add the expensive duck liver?
Yes, he did. Or he didn’t have to, exactly, but what he created is so good it’s almost guaranteed to become a classic.
Instead of regular fries as the base, Burke uses mini potato wedges. The crunchy brown nuggets — each about the size of a marshmallow — are fried to order after being cut from pre-baked Idaho potatoes. Their outsides don’t sog, even when topped with thick brown gravy. Cheddar curds add a tangy pop, and the bits and pieces of foie (plenty of it, considering the $14 price) make each bite extra rich.
The rest of the food
Unless you’re looking for a non-meat snack that’s not full of salt or cheese, there are plenty of other attractive options on the opening menu.
Skip the wings (which are green, thanks to housemade long hot sauce, but not very crispy despite being twice-fried) and go for the jonah crab toast. It costs the same as the poutine ($14), but almost eats like its opposite, with tons of sweet crabmeat sparked with calabrian chile dancing over airy High Street on Market toast.
Along with the fried chicken sandwich, the Bavarian pretzel ($6) is the other best-seller. It’s not baked in-house, but made specially by Metropolitan Bakery with Yards beer in the dough.
Burke’s other favorites include the patty melt ($12) and the BBQ platter ($32). Everything on the plate — from the Texas-style brisket to the St. Louis ribs to the cheddar bratwurst — is made from scratch, and the big wooden plank can feed two for a meal or serve as a snacking spread for a half dozen.
Vegetarians can find satisfaction in the two big salad bowls ($8/$9) or the miso ramen ($12).
Last but not least, the beer. There are 40 total taps at the first floor bar, pouring 20 different varieties at any time. The old taproom had half as many total taps pouring 14 different beers at a time, so there will be more to sample and try than ever before.
“We will always keep two barrel-aged beers on tap,” Kehoe confirmed, plus any limited edition beers — of which there will be many, since the new facility has a smaller, 20-barrel “pilot” brewhouse that can be used for experimentation.
All the beers on tap are available in multiple sizes, from 20-oz. imperial pints to flights of four 5-oz. tasting glasses.