If you’re looking for a new place to eat downtown, I recommend trying Cooperage: A Wine and Whiskey Bar. Last week, I was privy to a media dinner there and, I have to say, I liked the vibe and, more importantly, the food. I know the place has been getting mixed reviews, but being that it’s new, I’m cutting it some slack. The four of us who were seated together agreed the food was notable. My only complaint was that the lights were just a little too dim. Trust me, I love dim, but I also like to see what I’m eating.
The southern-themed menu delivered all the tasty comfort food you’d expect, including a fantastic rendition of crisp, moist roasted chicken served with creamy grits and a perfectly seasoned medley of earthy-tasting wild mushrooms. Seasonality, which is the prevailing trend these days, is one of Cooperage’s talking points. Expect to sample all kinds of locally grown and produced ingredients.
We got to sample a few other dishes besides the chicken, which I’m happy to report were plate-cleaning good. The catfish was plump and coated with a buttery, crunchy pecan crust. At first, I was unsure how distinct all of the flavors were in each of the dish’s components, but once I started loading forkfuls of the black-eyed pea ragout and sautéed spinach on top of the catfish, my taste buds started singing. My neighbor made quick work out of her pan-seared diver scallops, which were nothing less than huge, with a nice mahogany shade to them.
Clearly, chef Ralph Kane is not afraid to use butter. We like that. And we liked that, when he came around to all of the tables, he was unabashed in offering up his “secret touches” to some of the dishes—one such touch being the addition of mascarpone cheese to his grits. Need I say more?
Dessert was pretty darned good, too. I doubled up on pecans by ordering the pecan pie, which was a cute and individually sized tart topped with black raspberry ice cream and sweet-potato chips. The bourbon-spiked chocolate beignets were also impressive—warm, puffy and served with coffee ice cream. Next time, I’d like to try the chili-chocolate pot de crème (I’m still trying to find the best one in the city).
Obviously, because it was a press dinner, our offerings were limited. Reading through the menu, though, has me salivating. Italian or not, I am insane for good southern cooking. And I like the “idea” of all this homey comfort food that just reeks of hospitality and too many wonderfully indulgent calories.
And, of course, the fact that Cooperage has deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes on the menu just makes me smile. The lunch menu really looks great, too, especially the Brekkie Burger, with all kinds of insanely decadent toppings like Applewood-smoked bacon, a sunnyside egg and Pennsylvania Noble cheddar cheese. Cardiac arrest, anyone?
On the wine and spirits side, there are 20-plus wines/glasses for your sipping pleasure and, more to my liking, around 40 varieties of whiskey, which also show up in specialty cocktails like the Philadelphian, made with bourbon and brown sugar, champagne and chocolate bitters.
The décor is a well-executed, warm-feeling balance of rustic and industrial, with exposed ducts, whitewashed floors, painted brick walls, vintage-inspired lighting, glass-bead-shaded lamps, distressed bead board, and a stone-topped bar. Oh, and tons of wildflowers.
It was a quick visit, but I do plan on going back. If you want to take a peek, you can always start with a visit to Cooperage’s café, or sit down at the bar for some whiskey and nibbles and scope out what everyone’s eating—or take a look at our photos below.
601 Walnut St., Suite L-75 (in the Curtis Center), Philadelphia; (215) 226-2667, cooperagephilly.com