by Len Lear

City Tap House, which is kind of like an American version of Munich’s legendary Hofbrauhaus, opened in May of 2010 on The Radian Balcony, the second floor of a building at 3925 Walnut St., just a few six-packs’ length from the campuses of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. For beer buffs City Tap House has more hooks than a commercial fishing boat.   Each line for the 60 or so draft beers is fed straight from a changing array of kegs, managed by beer steward Andy Farrell.

Strawberry shortcake/cheesecake with whipped cream and strawberry drizzle is a super dessert at City Tap House. (Photo by Len Lear)

With so many craft beers to choose from, it is fun to pair light beers with lighter foods and darker beers with heavier foods, a pattern familiar to wine drinkers. For example, as you would pair a steak with the astringent, tannic qualities found in  a full-bodied Merlot or Cabernet, one can just as satisfactorily match that steak to a heavily hopped beer at City Tap House. (When I see so many draft beers, I think of Snooki on “Jersey Shore,” who gets drunk, passes out on the sand and cannot get up. In New Jersey that’s known as flirting.)

The menu of New American pub fare is served to guests in a 120-seat dining room that is flanked by an open kitchen with a brick pizza oven on one end and a bar the length of an airport runway on the other end. To work up a hearty appetite, you just have to jog around the bar a few times. (There is also extensive outdoor dining, including a row of five fire stone pits overlooking Walnut Street.)

The first executive chef at City Tap House was Al Paris, a peripatetic South Philly native who has worked in at least a dozen area kitchens and is currently chef/partner at Heirloom, a BYOB in Chestnut Hill. Since November, 2010, however, The City Tap House kitchen has been run by Ralph Kane, who formerly  worked backstage at Cooperage and Bistro 7, among others.

City Tap House was started by a local quartet of 30-somethings — Gary Cardi, Brian Harrington of Lafayette Hill, Frank Falesto and Chris Coco — and you can definitely say this is not their first time out on the dance floor. Their business, Public House Investments, opened Public House in 2005 in the former home of Dock Street Brewery at 1801 Arch St. in Logan Square.

In February of 2007, the enterprising quartet opened Mission Grill, a huge operation (140 seats and three private rooms) with a Southwestern ambience on the ground floor of the old Bell Telephone Building at 1835 Arch St. And in January of 2008 they opened Field House, a sports bar in the Reading Terminal’s old Independence Bar & Grill location. It seats 315, making it one of the biggest restaurants in the city. Last year they opened Chestnut 7 in Chestnut Hill, replacing Solaris Grille. As if that’s not enough, they also own restaurants in New York City, Stamford, CT; Wilmington, DE; Baltimore and Washington, D.C. These guys are definitely on their way up the gastropub escalator.

During our most recent visit to City Tap House last week, a few suds that we thoroughly enjoyed were Southampton Double White, a scary good American wheat beer with a spicy clove aroma and citrusy taste (6.7% alcohol, $6.50); Troegs Dreamweaver, a velvety smooth, feather-light match for salads or seafood (4.8% alcohol, $6.50); and Sly Fox Raspberry Reserve, which tastes like a sweet, carbonated, delightful after-dinner drink (9.4% alcohol, $21 for a 750 ml bottle).

Although beer plays the lead role at City Tap House, the food is not exactly a bit player. Some of the dishes we thoroughly enjoyed were the Tartufo brick oven pizza with roasted mushrooms, taleggio cheese, black truffle and fried egg ($15); roasted butternut squash salad with baby spinach, maple-glazed bacon, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and maple-sherry vinaigrette ($10); dry-rubbed baby back ribs that fell right off the bone ($21), an entree special of whole roasted pork loin stuffed with apple-currant chutney, accompanied by roasted asparagus and potato gratin. Excellent service was provided by an efficient Drexel student named Brian with a sensible shoes personality.

Many of the reviews on the food blogs are like this one on yelp.com by Shane J.: “I enjoyed the open layout and ability to see the kitchen. The food is unique and tasty. I like that it has a fun vibe. I have been here several times, and one night it was quizzo night. My table participated, and it was super fun. Those types of unexpected things can make a dining experience go from OK to memorable …
I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who enjoys a great beer from time to time.”

One might think parking is impossible to find on the 3900 block of Walnut Street, and it may be because we have a “parking fairy,” but both times we have gone to City Tap House, we found spaces right on Walnut Street, about 75 yards from the restaurant. And the kiosks actually worked both times! Shocking! I thought that maybe we were on some of Candid Camera TV show.

During the week City Tap House is populated mostly by students. We were told by manager Jason Runzer that on weekends there are more families and students with their parents. City Tap House has live music or a deejay every night, Wednesday through Saturday.

For more information, call 215-662-0105 or visit www.citytaphouse.com