Philadelphia Restaurant Review: Forest & Main

Daniel Endicott and Gerard Olson’s Ambler eatery isn’t perfect, but with some help from chef Kaylin Miska, it might just be the perfect brewpub.

Sometimes a place doesn’t even have to be very good to be perfect. At Forest & Main, that feeling stole over me three times before I even sat down. First, out on the porch, where old-timers glanced up from pints of warm ale to take stock of me as I strode up from the quiet Ambler sidewalk. Then at the foot of the narrow staircase inside this old Victorian house, down which a clean-shaven 30-something descended arm-in-arm with his grandmother at the end of a five o’clock date. And it sunk in for good in the barroom, which is barely wide enough for a game of darts.

Five taps sprouted above a hammered-copper panel, and three cask pumps rose from a wood-slab bar fronted by six stools saddled in black leather. I slid into one. Soon a tawny foam was settling into a cellar-temp IPA, steam was rising from a soothing squash and apple soup, and a perfume of rosemary and orange zest wafted from a tin pail of popcorn (intermingling with the scent of bacon from my neighbor’s somewhat greasier pail).

I could just as well have walked in from a ramble in Oxfordshire. I wished it had been raining. I would have gladly left my boots by the door.

Daniel Endicott and Gerard Olson didn’t start out looking for a place this cozy. They only stumbled across it after checking out an 11,000-square-foot warehouse next door—and after striking out in Center City. But Goldilocks couldn’t have dialed up a better setting for the European-style session beers they brew here. A warehouse would plainly have been too big. In Philadelphia, the crowds would have been too n­arrow—our beer geeks don’t bring Grammy to supper. But this old house is just right.

Endicott learned brewing at the University of Sunderland, near Newcastle, and it shows in ales that derive their personality more from bacteria and wild yeasts than high alcohol. My favorites were the Lunaire, a pitch-perfect Belgian sour fermented partly in old chardonnay barrels, and the Zaftig, a dark farmhouse ale with a buxom malt bill and slight barnyard funk. At four and five percent alcohol by volume, respectively, each was a refreshing departure from our high-gravity craft-brewing zeitgeist.

After her nifty popcorns and that well-
balanced soup, I often found chef Kaylin Miska’s dinner plates one detail short. I wished, for example, that the fries hadn’t wilted beneath her good beer-battered cod, that she’d used the butter drenching her pierogies to crisp them instead, and that the kale had been longer on greens than over-rich braising liquid. The burger was a whale—with an honestly great tomato—but then, for $15, it’d better be.

But no matter. I was charmed. Because sometimes, a brewpub doesn’t need to be flawless to be just right.

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