Beers, Food, and more beers oh my

By John Fennell
February 3, 2011

In a city where almost all the restaurants have a unique beer menu, Fork and Barrel on Ridge Pike in East Falls definitely holds its own as the new upstart.

Unique beer is not the only menu item that will have you contemplating stepping out of your comfort zone.  This anything-but-traditional restaurant boasts a menu that combines exotic flavors and side dishes of differing textures with your not-so-typical meats.  From the seared sea scallops with pumpkin risotto and crispy sage to the Krainerwurst with whole grain mustard spaetzle, bacon and caramelized cippolini, you are really going to leave knowing that you did not just eat at Applebees.

It would not be unusual to drive down Ridge Pike and not realize that you had passed this non-descript and unassuming restaurant.  The only indication that the Fork and Barrel is located on the block is a sign with a medieval barrel hanging from the bottom.  The inside reflects the outside in its simplicity to the point it would be considered rustic.  Patrons are invited to sit at any one of three long tables wooden tables on benches in a dining room completely lit by candles.  The bar offers more seating than the dining area and is stocked full of oddly named beers from all over Europe.

Up a flight of stairs you have the Cask Saloon with its more traditional Nathan’s hotdogs and American beers. The beers downstairs are more European.  The bar does not offer its patrons any liquor and with two sheets off the menu devoted to beer, the added options would only appear glutinous.  Each of the beers on tap hail from a different country and the menu provides a lengthy description of each.  The second page is filled front to back with the beers broken down into categories like “Sour, Funky, Spontaneous” or “Stiff and Brawny, Snifter-Worthy Gems.”  Anyone wanting to try their luck at a tongue twister assortment of beers can try Haandbryggeriet Hesjeol, a Norwegian wheat beer that is described as having a smokey flavor.  Or if you are not interested in tripping over your beer selection, there is the Italian beer Isaac, which isn’t found on the menu but offers a sweet taste in a curvy bottle.

Fork and Barrel is the brain child of owners Matt Scheller and Matt and Colleen Swartz.  They also own Tap & Table in Emmaus and Bookstore Speakeasy in Bethlehem, Pa., which follow a similar theme with their low lighting and extensive beer lists.

Fork and Barrel is not for the average college budget or even the above average, but if you are ambitious in your tastes and do not mind paying for quality, you will find this menu to your liking.  This is not TGIFridays or Chiles. You will not find a bacon cheeseburger, “mozz stix” or Budweiser on the menu.  What you will find is a grilled cheese made with fontina, brioche, foie mousse, tomato jam and arugula.  If a burger is what you want, they do offer a Lamb Burger with blue cheese and rosemary.  The chef Peter Felton will tell you the house specialty is their seafood. You can try the Belgian mussels or the Beausoliel oysters. You can find a beer to compliment any of your selections.

What you end up paying for is good food, vast options of beer and ambiance.  With a hard-to-pronounce beer selection, truly different food items and a rustic dining environment Fork and Barrel is definitely a place you can show off how cosmopolitan you are.

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John Fennell

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