The toasted chickpeas at the Goat’s Beard are serious trouble, and I mean this in the best possible sense. They arrive glistening with a generous shimmer of oil, perfectly seasoned and garnished with curls of grated lime zest. Having been sautéed and then roasted to make them almost impossibly crisp, they pop with an almost audible snap.
Pop one and you’ve already committed to going the distance, but don’t fight it. If you go with friends, be warned that arguments may ensue with your tablemates over who gets to keep the bowl in front of them. They are nothing if not addictive.
And if you’re compulsively nibbling these explosive little orbs, you certainly need something to drink. Whether you go with one of the whiskeys from the domestic-heavy selection numbering more than 70 or with a beer from one of the eight taps or generous selection of craft bottles, you cannot go wrong—unless, of course, you just stop there.
Reason is, this spot with the English-pub-sounding moniker (its name is remarkably similar to a family of plants) is hitting virtually all of its intended targets, even just seven months into its tenure along Manayunk’s main drag.
Owner Sean Coyle and chef Joel Romano are clearly talents to be taken seriously. Whether it’s a bar snack like those $3 chickpeas or more substantial fare, their vision is clear and their execution is stellar. This is fresh, locally focused food that, in its playfulness and smarts, ends up holding your attention in ways you might not expect.
Goat nuggets, which sound like some sort of riff on Rocky Mountain oysters, are thankfully nothing of the sort. Rather, they’re what I imagine would result if a well-crafted Buffalo wing were spliced into a perfectly made chicken nugget. The result is a dish that, with its Sriracha heat and crumbles of bleu cheese, demands more beer and perhaps a second serving. (The $5 happy-hour price is nothing short of a steal.)
Simpler pleasures are just as well executed. Pickled jalapeño slices are subtly sweetened up with the honeyed notes of bourbon, a smart foil to the smoky heat of that pepper. Fries, in whatever permutation you order them—there are several—are crisp and not necessarily in need of any dipping sauce.
Fish and chips, a dish that is devilishly difficult to do well, benefits here from both a generous fillet of fluke as well as a beer-based crust as nutty and crisp as far too many in the area are soggy and listless. More of those excellent fries accompany the fish, of course, but it’s the remoulade that demands your attention, swirling with the exotic heat of homemade kimchi.
Mussels were also well wrought, each one a tender jewel in its glistening black shell. Their broth, a classic gathering of fennel, bacon, leeks and tomato, demonstrated the confidence of the kitchen here when it comes to the classics. Only the steak “macaroni” and cheese, really, left me wanting something a bit different. The excellent gnocchi (hence the quotes around macaroni) managed the difficult trick of being both hearty and not too glutinous, and the deeply elegant slices of beef from Oregon’s Painted Hills farm were perfectly cooked and seasoned. But the cheese, in a heady béchamel with parmesan, Asiago and cheddar, separated into a too-oily slick. That issue aside, the flavors were stellar.
This was a rare hiccup at a restaurant where the service is as genuine and welcoming as the food: Everyone here was more than generous with smiles, kind words and offers of help.
Which, come to think of it, could be a cause for concern: With the combination of very good, deeply comforting food, excellent beverages, delicious desserts (the fried brownie is particularly notable) and a kind staff, you will overstay your allotted time for the parking meter. It’s such a pleasant place that losing track of the hours is truly a risk ... albeit one you will be very happy to take.
My advice is this: Don’t sweat it. Just sit back, revel in one of Manayunk’s worthiest new additions and embrace it all. One final note: For a great education, ask about the beer and whiskey flights on offer. There is also a private event space on the third floor.
The Goat’s Beard
4201 Main Street (Manayunk)
267-323-2495 | thegoatsbeardphilly.com
Photograph by Rob Hall