First Bite: Ladder 15

Last month, Michael Klein reported that David Ansill had turned up in the most unlikely of places — as the chef of Ladder 15. Yes, that Ladder 15, the boisterous bar on Sansom Street from the people who own Mad River. It’s the type of place that has to have rules — a sign near the door requests patrons be 23 and older to enter, and there’s a dress code: no jerseys, hats, or work boots. But you can tell by the thoughtful, polished design and attentive service that the owners were stepping it up for Center City and didn’t want Ladder 15 to be just another Mad River. And I’m happy to report that a few recent changes are getting Ladder 15 back to its original intent.

The brass at Ladder have given Ansill carte blanche in the kitchen, so we are lucky to be able to re-live some of the masterful dishes we loved so much at Ansill, his now shuttered Queen Village eatery (and a former Philly Mag 50 spot). The mussels are some of the best in the city, plump and slightly smoky thanks to a roast in the oven and a smoldering rosemary spring garnish. The beer-battered rock shrimp also shows Ansill’s masterful shellfish skills. They are crispy, greaseless, and tender all at once and are served with a lobster roe aioli. The sandwiches and entrées we sampled were just as easily shared as the mussels and shrimp bar snacks (you’ll also find fried cauliflower, polenta fries, and curried lamb empanadas on that side of the menu).

The Korean tacos are a must — you’ll get one pork belly and one braised short rib — for the simultaneously spicy, sweet, and meaty bite. (And they are every bit as authentic as the original version I’ve had in L.A.) The classic burger is solid and well priced at $10, but it’s the $15 sirloin burger topped with braised short ribs, mushrooms, grilled red onion, bone marrow, and truffle that everyone is talking about. Either way, you’ll be happy to get the cooked-to-order fries that come with both burgers.

Ansill isn’t the only new member of the Ladder 15 team. Collin Flatt (of the Wine and Beer School of Philadelphia and has been brought on to spruce up the beer list. He’s added a list of rotating local and craft taps and expanded the bottle selection. We love that the menu now has wine-like tasting notes for each brew and the option to order at $13 flight, which is any four 5-ounce drafts.

Ladder 15, 1528 Sansom Street; 215-964-9755.