January 07, 2008

Dock Street Brewery

Dock Street

If you’re like most people, you believe that restaurants live or die on the merits. You believe that if a restaurant has great service and makes great food, it will succeed. And that if its service is poor and its food is mediocre, it will fail. After all, that’s how the marketplace is supposed to work, right?

But every once in a while a restaurant defies this model. Much like the creatures that lumber over the rocks of the Galápagos Islands, sometimes a restaurant is isolated from the process of natural selection that otherwise would (or should?) cause it to become extinct.

Dock Street Brewery is one of those restaurants.

Rosemarie Certo and her husband founded Dock Street Brewery in 1985. Five years later, they opened a brewpub and rode the crest of the microwbrew trend to nationwide popularity. After selling the business in 1998, they repurchased the bottling division and the brand in 2002. The brewpub, operated by other owners, closed in 2002. Last fall, Certo decided to give the brewpub another go in a former firehouse in West Philly.

Dock Street

The décor of the reborn brewpub aims for a hip minimalism, one that’s characteristic of the mostly post-grad crowd it tends to draw. However, the result—raw concrete floors, dim lighting, and lawn furniture mismatched with chairs from Target—is less than welcoming.

Flammenkuche Pizza

But Dock Street’s issues are more fundamental than décor. First, the service is inconsistent. On one visit the service was well-paced and efficient. On another, though, it was an obscene train wreck. Inexcusably, it took over an hour and a half for the food to arrive after ordering. Often you can tell whether blame lies with the servers or the kitchen. Here it was both. The food was hot when it finally came out, indicating that the kitchen was at fault for the delay. And we’re not talking complicated entrées here—it’s pizza. At the same time, the servers were mysteriously absent for long periods of time while dirty plates were stacked high on several adjacent tables—a makeshift SOS by stranded diners.

Provencal Pizza

Second, contrary to the early hype, the pizza is nothing to crow about. The pizzas may sound compelling on the menu, but most fall short of expectations. The sweetness you expect from the layer of fig jam on the Fig Jam Pizza, for example, is virtually undetectable, overshadowed by bacon. The pizza isn't the only letdown. The signature Dock Street Beer Battered Fish & Chips also misses the mark—the batter was thin and the fish itself was bland. Not everything is disappointing. The Flammenkuche Pizza is worth repeating; its sweet caramelized onions and bacon balance nicely with its crème fraîche and gruyère. And although the leeks were overcooked, the French Fry Trio makes a half decent bar snack.

Dock Street Beer Sampler

Most of last fall’s drafts tasted like beer with training wheels. Light on hops and heavy on malt, they were ideal for people who normally don’t like beer. The Imperial Stoudt, for example, made with organic fair trade espresso beans, was a fun pour. But it belonged on a breakfast table not a bar. However, Dock Street’s first brewmaster recently left, and Eric Savage, Dock Street’s original brewmaster, is now consulting. This change should be a good thing.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Despite its shortcomings, Dock Street may survive. Poor service and mediocre food would doom a restaurant in Center City. But, as they say, it’s all about location. And a built in market. West Philly needs Dock Street. The restaurant brings energy to a struggling neighborhood, and the locals show their appreciation by returning night after night. Dock Street also has a menu that caters to vegetarians and vegans, segments of the dining population that are often ignored by restaurants.

For now, Dock Street looks like a creature that isn’t supposed to exist. But given enough time, who knows, maybe it will evolve.

Dock Street Brewery
701 South 50th Street
(215) 726-2337

For more pics, check out my Dock Street Set on Flickr.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

yay... another lackluster doesn't know shit from shine-o-la food critic dead pans a neighborhood favorite with criticisms that it isn't a four star restaurant.

Your critcisms aren't completely off base, but your comparisons are. You can't run a Center City style restaurant in sprawling West Philadelphia and good luck finding food that even comes close to the quality of Dock Street anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Steve Jeltz said...

a little harsh, "anonymous"?! The author clearly is not comparing Dock Street to a four-star eatery...the well documented spotty service & table clearing should not be tolerated at a 4-star place , McDonalds or anywhere in between. The place serves primarily pizza & beer & both are not consistent here, plain and simple.

I thinks its great that Dock Street set up shop there and could be a springboard for other desired development; however they shouldn't get a free pass on the spotty food, drink or service quality because of it.

Vince said...

Thanks for the review. Lived 1/2 block down Willows back between 1945 and 1957 when it was still a fire house. I will be eating here just for the nostalgia aspect. I would love to see the area do well.

Matthew said...

Hey, nice interview. I thought you approached it very logically without blasting them. Sometimes restaurants just deserve bad reviews, plain and simple.

Who knows, maybe they'll work out their kinks and get the show rolling for real. They showed on that one occasion that they have the potential for good service, they just can't repeat it consistently at this time.

Matthew Apsokardu
Classic Wines - Online Guide to wine ratings, prices, and reviews

Anonymous said...

Mostly smack on target review. A few things to say though.

I am a long time resident of w.philly and was so psyched (as were many friends)to hear a place doing artisan pizza and craft beer would be a short walk away. For years, talk amongst friends about west philly food would always end up citing our hood's many gastro-virtues; being able to eat from many distinct cuisines of Africa, Falafel which puts any (cart or not) in CC to shame, real indian 65 cent somosas (as opposed to overpriced whole foods wannabees), picnic-perfect Banh Mi, a BBQ Pakistani Diner, not to mention noteworthy BYOBs such as Vietiane or Marigold - but always tempered with one major lament: no stellar pizza and no bar with goodies on tap like say, Monk's, Triumph or Standard Tap. It seemed for several years as if a gastropub/brewpubs would open in every neighborhood but ours. I think the fact that it took so long for an establishment like this with its own real ales on tap & good pizza in a neighborhood with a freakish amount of homebrewers and beer enthusiasists and a demographic generally yearning for this sort of thing (the hype around this place was going for ages before it opened) partially set it up for failure from the beginning. It was for the first couple months, sort of a neighborhood joke. Something everything wanted to root for, but found in reality lacking. I heard a variety of entertaining encounters: multiple tales of running out of dough, of hour + waits for the pizzas and outright rude service. On my first visit I had an excellent DS rendition of the alsatian bason, cheese, and onion classic the flammenkuche. However, my companion had a way over cooked, over sauced margarita (my mouth was seared for the rest of the meal). Luckily we had beer to make up for the burning - but unfortunately the pilsner we were advised with had barely more body than Bud yet managed to be obnoxiously flowery at the same time (?@#$?!). That night's service was also accompianed by a snarky barkeep, who had to be pestered for any ounce of attention and who didtn seem to fathom the concept of a trial size tray of the beers on tap. Despite the fact that this is custom brewhouse procedure, she felt the need to give a no reply followed by a puzzling stare. On a subsequent visit, a sampler seemed normal (as it should be) and I tasted several lovely brews (rye ipa, wheat, intriguingly spiced and not oft seen red ale) but the pizza, whilst awfully tasty, took criminally long. And the service still felt more like I was a pesky afterthought rather than a valued patron. Another time after calling well AHEAD for takeout I waited for 20-30 only to receive a burnt pizza.
So I stopped for a few months but then couldnt resist the call of the place and have been a repeat customer since- and herein lies the place continuing to be packed every weekend - even with the shit cool servers & barkeeps, spaced inconsistent kitchen, and evidently moronic management that let these conditions persist, you are still largely guaranteed to have the most kickin' craft beer on tap west of the river and pizza that ranges from above avg. to excellent (unheard of in the neighborhood). And both these things in an airy spartan historic locale with outdoor seating. No small thing, despite the big cons.
I do dearly wish they would just get it together! Geezus,
just get the staff to fathom what SERVICE means (friendliness = $) and run a more hustling kitchen and this place has the potential to not just be the local favorite haunt its become by default but on par with its non-w.philly counterparts, inspiring beer and a real dough destination.

Anonymous said...

Mostly smack on target review. A few things to say though.

I am a long time resident of w.philly and was so psyched (as were many friends)to hear a place doing artisan pizza and craft beer would be a short walk away. For years, talk amongst friends about west philly food would always end up citing our hood's many gastro-virtues; being able to eat from many distinct cuisines of Africa, Falafel which puts any (cart or not) in CC to shame, real indian 65 cent somosas (as opposed to overpriced whole foods wannabees), picnic-perfect Banh Mi, a BBQ Pakistani Diner, not to mention noteworthy BYOBs such as Vietiane or Marigold - but always tempered with one major lament: no stellar pizza and no bar with goodies on tap like say, Monk's, Triumph or Standard Tap. It seemed for several years as if a gastropub/brewpubs would open in every neighborhood but ours. I think the fact that it took so long for an establishment like this with its own real ales on tap & good pizza in a neighborhood with a freakish amount of homebrewers and beer enthusiasists and a demographic generally yearning for this sort of thing (the hype around this place was going for ages before it opened) partially set it up for failure from the beginning. It was for the first couple months, sort of a neighborhood joke. Something everything wanted to root for, but found in reality lacking. I heard a variety of entertaining encounters: multiple tales of running out of dough, of hour + waits for the pizzas and outright rude service. On my first visit I had an excellent DS rendition of the alsatian bason, cheese, and onion classic the flammenkuche. However, my companion had a way over cooked, over sauced margarita (my mouth was seared for the rest of the meal). Luckily we had beer to make up for the burning - but unfortunately the pilsner we were advised with had barely more body than Bud yet managed to be obnoxiously flowery at the same time (?@#$?!). That night's service was also accompianed by a snarky barkeep, who had to be pestered for any ounce of attention and who didtn seem to fathom the concept of a trial size tray of the beers on tap. Despite the fact that this is custom brewhouse procedure, she felt the need to give a no reply followed by a puzzling stare. On a subsequent visit, a sampler seemed normal (as it should be) and I tasted several lovely brews (rye ipa, wheat, intriguingly spiced and not oft seen red ale) but the pizza, whilst awfully tasty, took criminally long. And the service still felt more like I was a pesky afterthought rather than a valued patron. Another time after calling well AHEAD for takeout I waited for 20-30 only to receive a burnt pizza.
So I stopped for a few months but then couldnt resist the call of the place and have been a repeat customer since- and herein lies the place continuing to be packed every weekend - even with the shit cool servers & barkeeps, spaced inconsistent kitchen, and evidently moronic management that let these conditions persist, you are still largely guaranteed to have the most kickin' craft beer on tap west of the river and pizza that ranges from above avg. to excellent (unheard of in the neighborhood). And both these things in an airy spartan historic locale with outdoor seating. No small thing, despite the big cons.
I do dearly wish they would just get it together! Geezus,
just get the staff to fathom what SERVICE means (friendliness = $) and run a more hustling kitchen and this place has the potential to not just be the local favorite haunt its become by default but on par with its non-w.philly counterparts, inspiring beer and a real dough destination.