Thursday Barlogue: Kensington Quarters, Philadelphia, PA
The first time I set foot in Kensington Quarters in Philadephia’s Fishtown neighborhood was shortly after they opened back in 2015. I loved their focus on sustainability and sourcing from local farmers and producers, and I was intrigued by the idea of a butcher shop and restaurant combination. That first visit to Kensington Quarters did not disappoint and I have returned quite a few times over the past two and a half years. I was impressed with their cocktails from day one, and I recently had the opportunity to talk with general manager Tim Kweeder about their beverage program.
Kensington Quarters has an 8 drink cocktail list that changes fairly often to reflect both seasonal availability and the desire to bring new ingredients into the mix. The restaurant’s 3 bartenders, Evan, Maxine, and Gabrielle, along with Kweeder himself, all collaborate to develop the drink menu. While sitting at the bar for lunch and perusing the current list, I couldn’t help but notice the number of spirits that are unusual and unexpected. Let’s take the drink I ordered above, the Exhibit #112, as an example. Aside from the mezcal rinse and the tequila base, this cocktail contains Cappeletti and Montenegro, both Italian amari that you won’t see behind the bar in most restaurants in the city. The Cappeletti is an apertivo with a glorious color and taste that is less viscous than Campari and not quite as sweet as Aperol. The Montenegro is one of the most accessible of the digestivo Amari in terms of flavor and its ability to work well with other ingredients. Having both of these spirits behind the bar, let alone present in the same cocktail together with tequila, is only one of the things that makes Kensington Quarters so unique.
My lunch companion’s drink was part of an ongoing series based on the activities of a fictional family named the Thompsons. Back around the holidays their drink was Thompson Thanksgiving, while the current entry on the list is called Thompsons Take Manhatten, a blend of rye, sweet vermouth, lemon, and ginger beer. Again, unique, and fun. I love the idea of this Fishtown family and their contributions to the cocktail list! Kweeder also made a drink for us to try called The Marquis, with rye, lemon saccharum, sparkling wine, and Byrrh (pronounced beer), a gentian based bitter spirit that I’ve been dying to try, and have not seen on many menus anywhere. The lemon saccharum is a house-made ingredient along with ginger syrup, cinnamon syrup, and orange chili lime bitters that are seriously spicy! There are a significant number of Amari available at Kensington Quarters that find their way into the cocktails, and are part of an 4 glass Amari flight that will give you the opportunity to taste them side by side. I’ve found this tasting flight, along with a cheese board, to be a fabulous way to close out a meal. In addition to the the Amari as after dinner choices, Kensington Quarters also offers some brandy options like a rare Armagnac and Eau de Vie, both from France, as well as a locally produced Eau de Vie from Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale, Pa. The decision to offer rare brandy selections, as opposed to whiskey options, was a decision that was made with the idea of offering variety to guests that they might not find in most restaurants.
Kensington Quarters also holds a number of events at the restaurant. There is a late first Friday happy hour from 9-11 held in their upstairs bar area that features the work of local artists on a rotating basis. There is a Pop-up Cocktail event happening on the last Sunday of the month that revolves around a single botanical ingredient such as Evergreens or Roots. Developed by Kweeder, Amy Hartranft (from Prohibition Taproom), and Palmer Martinelli, these events are also held in the upstairs space and include $10 cocktails (also with fun theme-based names), as well as small plates. There is a German Wine Pop-up on March 23rd with music from David Bowie and Rod Stewart, as well as a Lambrusco festival on March 20th (part of Philly Wine Week) that includes food from guest chefs and 2 Lambrusco bars with 8 different selections. There are also ongoing classes held at Kensington Quarters ranging from pasta making to butchering. Info and sign-up for all their events can be found on their website under the events and classes & events tabs.
The food menu at Kensington Quarters has always revolved around seasonal availability and supporting local farmers. Although there are obviously a fair number of meat selections on the menu, vegans and vegetarians will find some options here too. The area at the front of the restaurant that formerly held meat cases was recently renovated to include more high tops for happy hour. There are still regular butcher shop items available like certain deli meats and farm fresh eggs, as well as prime cuts (with a few days notice via phone or email). There is a large dining space beyond the open kitchen, and an amazing back patio off the main dining area That’s open in warmer weather. In addition to lunch and dinner, Kensington Quarters serves an awesome brunch on the weekends with killer morning cocktails. No matter what you come in for, you’ll always find something very different here, whether it’s the well-thought-out cocktails, or the small producer wine list and local beer list, the inventive food menu, or the innovative and truly fun events. The pace is relaxed and the staff is knowledgeable, and you’ll always feel comfortable, accommodated, and determined to return again very soon.
Kensington Quarters 1310 Frankford Ave. Phila. PA 19125