(Philadelphia, PA) Back in June 2010, actor Rob McElhenny from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” opened Mac’s Tavern in the old city section of Philly. We are big fans of the show, plus the online menu and draught list cinched it: we felt compelled to include it in our review round-up. Blustery, rainy weather on Saturday didn’t cooperate with our original plan to hike the 1.5 miles so we cabbed it instead...
No lie. Beyond reason, I hope we might bump into a “personality” from the show. On a Saturday afternoon. For lunch. Riiiiight... Unrealistic expectations aside, we find the narrow entrance and enter a very clean and modern bar. Photos of famous patrons line the walls, alongside Philadelphia sports teams memorabilia. Televisions hanging overhead are tuned to soccer. We are hailed by the one waitress who bids us pick any table we like. It is pretty empty so we have run of the place, for now. We choose a four-top tucked in the back, where I can get some good shots of the place.
I am impressed by the beer list. There are selections from local breweries as well as more well-known microbrews. No domestic crap, though. I like that! Plus, there’s Original Sin hard cider for Juliet. I dig in with a Sixpoint Sweet Action from Brooklyn. It’s a strange, creamy amber kind of brew with malty characteristics but relatively innocuous. Later I move on to a Sprecher Black Bavarian which is much more suited to my palate, dry and dark, with licorice undertones without being sweet. It has depth. I end with the PBC Walt Wit (recommended by good buddy Obijohn from his visit to Mac’s only the week previous), a traditional and tasty Belgian-style white beer with grapefruit notes. Good one to finish with.
Originally, we plan for a light lunch. There are too many good choices, however, so we do our usual routine of ordering a couple starter dishes to share, then moving on to mains. Despite Obijohn’s advice to avoid Mac’s Macs, there’s no way I’m going to convince Juliet to skip it. The fusilli pasta is baked in a four cheese sauce, then topped with crumbles of honey-barbecue corn chips. One bite and we are sold. The medley of cheese and sweet-salty topping sends my taste buds into the stratosphere. We demolish it. Likewise, Mac’s House gravy fries—braised short rib shredded atop a mound of steak fries covered in gravy, topped with provolone and horseradish—are crazy good. And monstrous. There are way too many to finish, though we do our best.
For my main, I choose Sweet D’s Sausage & P’s. It’s a classic hoagie filled with sliced sweet sausage, sauteed bell peppers, and onions in a thick tomato sauce. It’s also nearly impossible to eat as a sandwich; I have to knife-and-fork it after several failed attempts to chaw on it, sausages slipping out from the bread onto my plate.
We hang around, sipping our drinks and picking at the food. I would classify the menu as “elevated tavern fare”. There’s something about Mac’s that makes me feel right at home. It would be easy to waste an entire day there, drinking, talking, and munching on goodies. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we have dinner plans later that night with friends, so we pay our bill, look forlornly at the remainders of our unfinished food, then scurry back out into the rain.
Old Town is a little over a mile from our hotel and the rain is predicted to hold off until late afternoon, so we opt to walk around and take in the sights before lunch. Unfortunately for us, the rain begins to drizzle right after we strike out and I discover I've left my umbrella in the room. We suck it up and stroll around Old Town, which is quite picturesque. I appreciate Philly's mix of historical buildings and monuments with modern architecture and attractions. But as we venture into the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House, we see they're selling hot pretzels and sodas from a food tent ten feet from her grave?!? I am immediately turned off and we abandon plans to enter the house. A little more walking and it's time to head over to Mac's Tavern.
Chilled to the bone, I shake off my wet rain coat, burrow deeper into my dry wrap and check out the menu. Comfort food would hit the spot right now and we both agree to start with the pasta appetizer, a baked fusilli in a four cheese sauce topped with corn chip crumbs. A friend recently ate here and he wasn't impressed with the dish, but there's no way I'm passing up a chance to eat mac 'n cheese, especially after spending the morning hoofing it through cold drizzle.
Jeremy wants to share an order of the gravy fries so we land on the Mac's House version with braised short rib, brown gravy, horseradish and provolone. I'm also intrigued by "Grandmom's Own," a soup with meatballs, escarole, egg, and cheese so I order it as my entree.
The fusilli dish arrives steaming hot and I immediately start picking a piece of fusilli from the edge. The overbaked, nearly-burnt crunchy bits from the edge are my favorite and I pop them in my mouth. A few more bites and I pronounce this one of the yummiest mac 'n cheeses I've ever had! The pasta isn't overcooked (so easy to do with a baked pasta dish), the cheese sauce is rich and gooey, and the crumbs are made from honey barbeque corn chips. What's not to love here?
We're still picking at the dish when the gravy fries, my soup, and Jeremy's sandwich arrive. The soup is a dark rich chicken broth filled with squares of meat, egg, cheese, and veg. It's like someone made a strata out of the meatballs, escarole, cheese, and egg, baked it, cubed it, and warmed up the squares in the broth. It's incredibly delicious and warming, perfect on a rainy day like today.
The gravy fries are addictive and should come with a warning. Hearty steak cut fries are topped with gravy, melted provolone, hunks of short rib, and a generous plop of horseradish. I was skeptical of this dish until I tasted it and then I had to force myself to stop eating it.
I am full, warm and happy. Mac's Tavern is a fun neighborhood joint well worth a visit.