Taphouse 23 Is the Elevated Neighborhood Bar Bridgeport Needs

Boasting a 150-seat patio, the tap house celebrates the borough’s roots.

Lost in the void between the restaurant-rich megapolis of King of Prussia and the youthful bar scene of Conshohocken, low-key Bridgeport has always retained a quiet culinary profile. Noteworthy local standbys include a freshly baked batch of Suzy Jo Donuts and a sloppy slice of Franzone’s pizza.

But Gary Johnson has been aiming to change the Bridgeport dining dynamic with his Taphouse 23. The industrial tube magnate took over the former dive bar in 2014, with a vision for the ultimate neighborhood taphouse—only bigger, with lots of free parking so he could (ostensibly) remain in his neighbors’ good graces.

Johnson has renovated the drab pre-Prohibition space to create a clean, polished, welcoming atmosphere with handsome dark woods, tartan-plaid banquette coverings, an attractive mosaic tile floor, framed black-and-white photos from Bridgeport’s past, and a pressed tin ceiling.

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Taphouse 23 Tools of the pizza trade. Taphouse 23 Italian Beer Mussels, cooked in Birra Moretti lager with sweet Italian sausage and fresh fennel

Tools of the coal-fired pizza trade.

Taphouse 23’s Italian Beer Mussels,
cooked in Birra Moretti lager with
sweet Italian sausage and fresh fennel.

At the start of 2018, Johnson brought in Richie Furino as his managing partner. Furino was the regional manager for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group and a 20-year veteran of that organization. In short, Johnson’s taphouse now has an ace running the show.

I ate my way through Furino’s menu of bar classics, appreciating the consistent execution of executive chef Chris Calvanese. The plump, beer-bathed mussels are served in four varieties—Italian, South Philly, Polish and Latin. A fitting nod to Bridgeport’s ethnic roots is the filling sampler, with pierogies, buttered onions and kielbasa.

Taphouse 23’s Queen Margherita pizza.

Taphouse 23’s Queen Margherita pizza.

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The wood-fired pizzas are excellent—especially the smoky-creamy Pizza Carbonara, with a freshly cracked egg slicked across the pie. The Route 23 Burger is a rich blend of short rib, brisket and chuck nestled on a potato brioche. Ma’s Meatballs (from Furino’s mother’s own recipe)—two ample, well-seasoned beef-and-pork wonders—are the best I’ve had in recent memory. I also enjoyed the ricotta-stuffed shrimp cannelloni, each bite containing a hint of nutmeg and oaky smoke from its finish in the 1,000-degree wood-burning oven imported from Italy.

One of 33 taps in action at Taphouse 23.

One of 33 taps in action at Taphouse 23.

On my initial visit to the bar, the tender was semi-attentive as he snuck bites of pizza while pouring me a citrusy Victory Brewing Company 4 Front IPA from one of the 33 taps. At a subsequent dinner, our server was pleasant, well-informed and fully focused. Service quirks aside, Johnson has finally given Bridgeport a neighborhood restaurant for all of us to enjoy—and with a jaw-dropping patio area, as well.

266 E. 4th St., Bridgeport, (610) 277-2323, www.taphouse23.com.

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