Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Friday, August 28, 2015

PPP Stop in Yardley, PA

The Continental Tavern, Yardley, PA
It was supposed to be just a P-P stop. You know, after two and a half hours on two wheels, a pee and a pint. Get off the bike, shake the tail feathers a bit, make a pit stop, get a refill, have an Alvarez in the shade, and head for home.

And then Frank Lyons magically appeared in front of me. I had met Frank at a Washington’s Crossing Brewfest over a year ago, and I’d promised him I’d stop by to review his place, the historic Continental Tavern in Yardley, PA.

I did stop by. Three times, in fact. But the elusive Mr. Lyons was never in the house, so I’d pretty much given up hope of ever seeing him again, much less sitting down with him. We chatted a bit in the parking lot, and he informed that his “beer guy” Ross Adrian was also on premises, and this would be a perfect time to talk. So in I went.
Ross Adrian
Ross Adrian, the general manager, told me he had just had a Stone Tap Takeover the previous night, and he had seven Stone Beers in the twelve-tap set up. When he came on board, there were only two beers that could qualify as “craft” beers, and the rest would probably not even qualify as beer to craft beer geeks. So he set out to build a craft beer venue, starting with Troeg’s, River Horse, Victory and Yard’s beers. They did very well with the demographic of mid-20’s to mid-50’s that frequent this historic building where the staff seems to be on a first-name basis with every customer who comes in. So he continued the mission, increasing the tap variety and expanding the bottled collection to over 100.

“The IPA’s sell the best, by far,” he told me. The array of Stone IPA’s on tap, from a session to a Triple, should keep them satisfied for a while. He still has Coors Light on tap, but “That’s only because the boss likes it, so I can’t bounce it.” Discretion is the better part of valor, even in the beer business. If the boss ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, I suppose.

And as you will learn, “happy” is a critical concept for some visitors—nay, residents-- of the Continental Tavern, which used to be a hotel that housed a library. Ross happened to mention the haunted history of the tavern, causing me to pause, albeit momentarily, from devouring my delicious BLT (which went beautifully with a Stone IPA). I inquired to learn more and he shared some bizarre stories about past and present paranormal happenings that have occurred throughout the building, thereby adding the extra “P” in the title above.

“There’s a pit under the kitchen that we had to open up todo renovations. We found thousands and thousands of artifacts downthere—including a bloody corset, a purse and the murder weapon.”  Many of those artifacts are visible in shadow boxes around the bar and throughout the tavern. He also shared some actual footage of a dancing cocktail toothpick caught by the night manager in the wee hours while locking up for the evening.
“We’ve had the Ghost Hunters in here, and the minute they walk in, all their gizmos start going off,” Adrian laughed. “But Frank is the guy to talk to if you want to hear the weird stories.”
Frank Lyons
So up into the “Inner Sanctum” of the second floor I went to chat with Frank Lyons (whom I began to suspect was really a ghost because of my failure to meet him in person for so long).

 Frank, a former airline pilot and possessed of a very professorial demeanor, shared with me stories and photos that were worthy of an episode or two of  “Haunted History.” What was supposed to be a forty-five minute break turned into a fascinating two-hour history lesson. He provided photos of repeated guests with “following orbs,” shared amazing stories from his daughter Colleen, who, in her youth, had the ability to see and hear the ghostly residents her father could not, and he talked about the many people with sensory antennae like Colleen who have visited and confirmed that there are definite presences in the house—and lots of them.
Artifacts linked to the "Bloody Corset"
Frank, who says he doesn’t believe in ghosts (!), insists that none of the presences seem to be dangerous in any way. “They are simply earthbound for a variety of reasons,” he said. With the space he uses as an office being the former hangout of a mysterious “beautiful woman” (seen by a youthful Colleen), Frank allowed that occasionally he will be sitting at his desk working on tavern business and his calculator will suddenly “come to life, with written messages on it.” Lyons actually gives PowerPoint historical presentations to groups who visit, and sometimes does so at the drop of a hat, if he’s so moved. “The more they listen, the more they drink,” he admitted. His impromptu presentation to me was riveting, showing me photos of the archaeological digs that took place under his kitchen floor revealing a deep tunnel that likely led to the river.
Underground Railroad Routes
It was also very likely a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, according to Lyons. “We’re just two blocks from the Delaware River, and since the slaves navigated basically by bodies of water and the North Star, that makes sense.” Most UR maps show a thick path right through PA and NJ right where Yardley would be. “The second oldest Quaker meeting house in PA is right here in Yardley, and the Quakers were fervent abolitionists, so that, too, makes sense.”

Probably. But what makes sense to me is that a place with this kind of paranormal history and activity is one of only two places in the city that serves “spirits.” 

Of course, The PubScout didn’t visit the Continental Tavern for the “spirits.” He visited it for the beer available and the food offered, and both are top notch and reasonably priced.

The “spirits” were, um, “on the house.”

The PubScout

Friday, August 21, 2015

Got Your "Wet Ticket" Yet?

I got this tip from a guy I met last week.

The Beer Boom continues apace! Thanks for the heads up, Colin!

The PubScout

Author's note: In the earlier version I posted today, I referenced a "Colin," also from Rahway, whom I met at a beer dinner last week. Though that Colin was a nice guy as well, he was not the Colin that sent me the tip, so I had to amend the article. Sorry for any confusion, but two Colins from Rahway in one week did me in. It's hell getting old....

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Happens When "Outside the Box" Teams Up with "Off-centered?"

Fr. DeSimone pours the Holy Water...
Lots of good things, apparently.

Chef Eric LeVine of Paragon Tap and Table and Sam Calagione of (off centered) Dogfish Head Beer were brought together in marital bliss Tuesday evening, with Fr. Mike De Simone presiding.

The Good Father has been doing wonderful things with his "Holy Water" promotions at the Clark locale since its inception, and the packed houses are an indication that the public appreciates it.

This very special, five-course beer dinner was pretty much sold out, and Chopped Champion Chef LeVine and his crew made the decision to "plate" the attendees' food in full view of the large audience, which was pretty unorthodox --and cool--if you ask me.

Chef LeVine educates the class...
The beer/food pairings were wonderful, and, according to Dogfish Head rep. Nick Vitalo, Chef LeVine was responsible for all of them.

He sure did have some good beer to work with, though. 

The first course was Smoked Duck Breast on a Salad of Blood Orange, Fennel, Roasted Peach and Herb Basil Brush. It was accompanied, smartly, by DH's Festina Peche, a relatively light, low-alcohol brew. Kevin, one of my tablemates, wasn't quite sure about it on first taste, but by the end of the dish, he'd been hooked. He simply followed the "Three Sips" rule.

Course #2 was Roasted Pork Loin and Roasted Corn Pudding with Mushroom Ragout, and it worked exceptionally well with Calagione's "American Beauty," a beautiful beer for more senses than just the eyes.

Course #3 saw a very special beer
--Black and Blue--(are you listening, Larry Porter?) paired with a Salmon dish with Crusted Seared Scallop and Shaved Asparagus Salad in a Black Garlic puree.

The fourth Course was an amazingly tender and perfectly cooked Monkfish, served on avocado, watermelon and a Star Fruit hash. It was accompanied by the granddaddy of the Dogfish Head IPA's
--120 minute, and it, too worked perfectly as its big alcohol bottom worked its wonders with the dish. In fact, every beer after the Festina Peche ran the ABV chart upward. Thank God there was food.

And speaking of ABV, the Raison D'Extra that joined the dessert course of Honey Lemon Cake with Beet Sorbet (yes, BEET sorbet) was plain and simple "outtasight."

At night's outset, DH rep Nick Vitalo predicted that he might have a hard time keeping control of the forty or fifty members of his "beer class" as the night wore on. He was right, because not only did the conversational decibel level rise considerably (commensurate, perhaps, with the increased ABV of the beers)  but some "students" actually engaged in classroom mischief--like Claudia (an American Beauty herself), who shot a hair tie across the room at Kevin to have it land on his shoulder during dinner.
Stephanie, Allie and Claudia (The Troublemaker)

'Twas all in good fun, though, and, if you add "good food," "good people" and "good beer" to the mix, that describes the dinner perfectly.

Father De Simone is having a special "Blessing of the Mead" Event  on Wednesday, August 19, where you can come and "get your Viking on."

You might even consider wearing your horned helmet, in case Claudia is in the house.

The PubScout

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Essex, CT--Home of "The Gris"

The PubScout is an admitted sucker for historic pubs. There's just something magical to me about drinking good beer in old pubs, and The "Gris" (Griswold Inn) in Essex, CT is the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation.
The Inn is actually a campus of various buildings in this Connecticut River port town, and we stayed in a delightful suite across the street from the storied inn. 

Our suite was clean, spacious and charming--even without a TV. These days, of course, you can get streaming TV on your computer (which I did, because I didn't want to miss Tyrant), so no biggie. All the rooms are different, so don't expect cookie-cutter accommodations like the big chains have. There is real character here.

But it was in the Tap Room, with its smoke-coated, domed ceiling made of clam shells and horsehair, that the past came alive. No chairs at the bar (a throwback to an earlier "gentlemen only" policy) and a handful of coveted tables surrounding an ancient wood-fired stove gave us all the historic ambience we needed. The perpetually lit and decorated Christmas tree atop the fireplace seems to say, "Welcome to continual good cheer!" 

The Tap Room
The walls in both the Tap Room and the Dining Room are chock full of maritime art, and your head needs to be on a swivel to appreciate all of it. As New York Magazine wrote, " The Tap Room is something very special, retaining all the traditional spirit that a country inn is supposed to project. It just may be the best looking drinking room anywhere in America." The PubScout will not disagree.

The food is classic American fare, and the House Special Clam Chowder, seasoned with Bermuda-based Outerbridge Sherry Peppers Sauce was a work of art. The Gris even has its own beer--Revolutionary Ale--brewed specially by Red Hook in New Hampshire. It's a quality session brew that paired well with everything I had on the menu over two days.

The Gris also sports a collection of other quality craft beers on draft and in bottles. Two Roads Road to Ruin IPA was quite nice, as was the Charter Oak Pale Ale.

There is entertainment every night as well, and we stopped in to hear the stylings of a group called The Sea Chanteys, who sang, well, sea chanteys. The packed room obviously was full of Chantey fans as everyone knew all the words to all the songs and sang them with considerable vigor. Given the town's ancestral links to the water, the Sea Chanteys made great sense and added to the historic atmosphere.

The next night we were treated to a very good jazz ensemble as we dined in the Historic Dining Room adjacent to the room which has seen the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Billy Joel, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Richard Thomas, Henry Winkler and Rat-Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and others.

The food was fresh, of good quality and well prepared (if a tad on the pricey side), but socked in as the town is by marinas and yacht clubs, and with the roads chock full of Mercedes, Beemers and Porsches, that's to be expected.

Bartender Ed
For lovers of old, character-filled drinking emporia, the Tap Room fills the bill quite nicely, and it's not surprising that it is the only pub in Connecticut to make Esquire's "Best Bars in America" list every year.

There are also a few neat things to do near Essex, and one of them is riding the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, a combination journey that transports you back in time in classic, restored railroad cars and a river boat that tours up and down the river past stunning houses (like the Gillette Castle), amazing scenery and wildlife that even includes bald eagles. And the Connecticut River Museum, located at the water's edge at the foot of Main St., informs the visitor wonderfully about the history of the great river and the people who used it. You can even see David Bushnell'sTurtle, America's first submarine, and, if you aren't claustrophobic, climb into a mock up of it to see how it worked. Jockey-sized people will fit best.

The Turtle
The entire area is pretty, picturesque and tranquil, and if you have a special affinity for charming old  towns with well-kept historic homes at the water's edge, this one will fill the bill quite nicely.

And what's better than recounting your day's adventures over some excellent food and grog in a pub that was up and running in 1739?

Even if you have to stand at the bar? 

The PubScout