Samuel Johnson famously once said, “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced, as by a good tavern.” Amen.
On my recent Thursday night visit, The Drake Tavern in Jenkintown was living proof of what Johnson had so lovingly extolled. The 60-seat dning room was vibrant with life and good cheer. The noise level can be high, but it’s a happy noise.
The full-service bar sports 10 logo-branded taps, and offers more than 30 bottled beers and ales. Compared to some of today’s pubs, this is not a huge selection, but it is more than adequate.
From the beginning seven years ago, the Drake Tavern has also been about outstanding food. Executive chef/owner Zac Hulayev, who was instrumental in making the former Alexander’s restaurant (now Kitchen Bar) a major success, is largely to blame - happily - for this. The Drake is our “Cheers,” and Hulayev is our “Sam” - Ted Danson.
The food here is a sizable cut above typical tavern fare, yet at tavern prices. The menu is large, running the gamut of American classic favorites, a line-up of sandwiches, and wraps, entrees like steak, chops, and seafoods, and pub specialties like shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. Plus, they style themselves as “master of burgers."
We started with the eastern ocean mussels ($10.99), which were good, but not great.
On a previous visit, the seared tuna appetizer ($11.99), was a generous portion of fresh sliced tuna steak encrusted with roasted sesame seeds and black pepper, served wonderfully rare with a side of seaweed salad, wasabe paste, and soy dressing. While not quite as good as at a fine Japanese restaurant, it was not bad at all. Twenty other appetizers and salads will satisfy a wide variety of tastes.
I was immediately lured to one of the unusual entries on this month's specials menu, the Drake Peking Duck sandwich ($11.99). I was greatly rewarded with slices of grilled marinated duck breast on a fresh Kaiser roll, enhanced with a crisp fried wonton, scallion, and plum sauce, and finished brilliantly with mango chutney and almonds. This juicy, flavorful creation was one of the best sandwiches this reviewer has had on his widely traveled beat.
On that previous visit, the “Captain Morgan’s” burger ($10.99) I had tried was also a masterpiece. It is one of five different charcoal-grilled burgers made with a half-pound of Angus beef. It was grilled perfectly medium rare, as requested, juicy and amazingly flavorful, with Portobello mushrooms, Swiss cheese, crispy fried potato strings, and the sublime, homemade Captain Morgan’s sauce. The sauce is a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce that Hulayev said he conceived in a dream, and then spent three months perfecting. Most of us dream of less prosaic things, but we can't discount the results.
If you are wanting a salad, you might want to have the crab cake salad ($12.99). It was rich in lump crab with not too much filler. The salad had all the usual cast of salad characters, plus roast peppers, olives, and crunchy fried potato strings, with a creamy tartar remoulade dressing, all in all a good value at $12.99.
Inside, there is much to catch your eye: many colored neon beer signs, framed photos of rock stars and Philly sports greats, and the flock of convivial, sweet young waitresses dressed mostly in black Drake logo tops, not to mention the zillion large-screen TVs (all showing the Phillies game last Thursday night). Outside, there is a large patio, part of which is covered and enclosed and part open, from where you can nurse your drink and watch the cars go by on Old York Road.
Overall rating: mmmm (out of 5 m’s) a very “good tavern” that old Sam Johnson would have been happy to frequent.
Location: 304 Old York Road (Route 611), Jenkintown
Cuisine: American casual.
Web site: www.draketavern.com
Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday, Monday until 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday until 12 a.m. Friday, Saturday bar until 2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers, soups, salads $6 - $12; burgers, sandwiches, wraps, $7 - $9; entrées, $12 - $20
Credit cards: All major accepted
Alcoholic Bevs: 10 beers on tap and 30 varieties in bottles. Wheelchair Access: Yes
Special features: Happy Hour specials; music on weekends; OktoberFest extravaganza,Sept. 29.
To contact Mitch Davis, you can e-mail him.