I’ve heard that when Wharton students want to go on a secret date (god forbid someone sees you playing footsie with that guy from your cohort at Pub & Kitchen), they go to Old City. Well folks, I have a new suggestion for you: MANAYUNK.
Founded many moons ago, the town’s name is derived from the Native American Lenape tribe word for “place to drink” (amen), and is just a ten-minute drive, a 40-minute journey on SEPTA, or a 45-minute bike ride along the Schuylkill from Center City. I highly recommend the bike ride, which provides a scenic eight miles of full-on Philadelphia glory, including views of the Art Museum, the Waterworks, Boathouse Row, and Fairmount Park. Though on this particularly chilly night, I drove because dammit if I wasn’t going to enjoy feeling like an adult on an honest-to-goodness date – and not the 19-year-old college freshman that the Wharton dating scene so often evokes. Also, because my date had a car. Boom.
Manayunk is home to a number of great restaurants, including a seldom-visited outpost of Han Dynasty, the Manayunk Brewery (great back patio for day drinking), and Whirled Peace Frozen Yogurt (good choice for a mid-bike-ride treat). But that night I wanted a cozy dinner, so I engaged the restaurant management tool trifecta of Google, Yelp, and Open Table. A newish restaurant, The Goat’s Beard, had just the right balance of stars (four) and dollar signs (two) to pique my interest. Also, Yelp categorized it as “Casual, Trendy,” and if those works don’t describe me, I don’t know what does (That’s sarcasm. My two-word category would likely be “unkempt, dorky”).
We arrived at the restaurant (parking was such a bitch! We had to walk like a whole block!) and were optimistic from the start. The restaurant was small and well lit. It was just crowded enough to make us feel cool, but not so crowded that we had to wait for a table. The décor was as cozy as I’d hoped, with wood paneling on one wall and farmhouse touches that hint at the local sourcing of their ingredients. The only discordant note was two large televisions showing the Flyers game (accustomed to watching D-League hockey, I was shocked at how the Flyers managed to stay upright throughout the entire game).
The waiter, whose name was either Simon or Tim, was friendly and extremely well-informed. He hung around our table just enough, offering jokes, advice on the beer list, and some context on the restaurant. He also nicely pretended not to notice as I repeatedly took my food, placed it on a windowsill with better light, and photographed it. That’s class, Tim/Simon.
The Goat’s Beard prides itself on its massive whiskey list (it even offers whiskey flights!), but alas, I didn’t explore it. Instead, I enjoyed their well-cultivated draft list, with well-priced seasonal and local beers. Pumpkin beer, hell yes.
This next paragraph will be dedicated, much like my dreams for the last two days, to their french fries. Holy shit. We ordered the “combo” fries, which is, simply put, a bowl of amazingness. The “combo” combined the menu’s herbed parmesan fries, the sweet chili fries, and the sour cream fries into one jumble of fried potatoes, unexpected sauces, and joy. Next time I go, I will request two orders of the fries, consider it a meal, and die happy. You must order these fries. Our waiter, Tim/Simon, agreed. “That’s chow food, right there,” he explained, as he dropped the mic fries.
We also ordered the falafel platter, which was pretty standard. You’ll do better at Agno. My date ordered the steak mac and cheese, which he described as “firing on all cylinders.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but based on his lack of contributions to our otherwise scintillating conversation while he demolished his entree, I think it’s safe to say he liked it. It’s sliced sirloin over a bowl of gnocchi mac and cheese. It’s totally healthy.
This, unfortunately, is where my restaurant review may lose a little steam. Why? Because I ordered the veggie burger, despite such tantalizing options as kimchi fish ‘n chips or mussels with bacon. Why? Because I’m a vegetarian. Why? Because eating dead flesh is gross and you know it. The veggie burger was a lentil and black bean burger, topped with a roasted red pepper and mozzarella cheese. It was a little dry and not particularly flavorful. Fortunately, it came with a generous side of herbed fries, so I focused most of my attention there and was more than content.
With a final course of delicious bread pudding, our dinner was complete. I highly recommend The Goat’s Beard and the overall scene in the ‘Yunk. And I look forward to crashing your secret date there sometime in the very near future.
Place: The Goat’s Beard
Address: 4201 Main Sreet, Manayunk
Rating: 3 out of 4
Bottom line: A cozy, intimate pub, with a small menu and well-curated beer and whiskey lists. Entrée’s $11-15, a perfect spot for a date or dinner with a few friends.