The entrance may be small and underwhelming, easy to miss on the oft-forgotten Sansom Street that’s nestled between Philadelphia mega-blocks Market and Chestnut. Stairs are the first thing you see when you open that door, and for your sake, you better climb them. Your first two impressions of Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant make you question the hype, but it’s hyped for a reason that you will quickly realize. In a city where bars sometimes try to hard to be fancy and upscale giving a pretentious vibe, Nodding Head retained the one characteristic that you want in your go-to drinking establishment: a neighborhood feel.
When you get up those stairs and into the restaurant, you see bobble heads, a small bar highlighted by colorfully comical tap handles, and the brew room in the back. The interior has a worn, lived-in feel, a polar opposite of those Center City all white or all stainless steal too-clean and can’t-touch-anything snobbary.
Alright, enough of the rant on avoiding pretentious big city bars because I may be tipping my hand too much. Now to the beer and the food that you probably assumed you were getting in the first place.
The beer list at Nodding Head is a unique blend of some conservative brews and some a bit more adventurous. My biggest surprise was that they shied away from IPAs. IPAs and other hop-heavy ales are usually a staple of a microbrewery’s lineup because they off the opportunity for a brewer to go big and different. Sure, IPAs are certainly not for everybody, but they are good for creating buzz among beginner beer-lovers and hop-heads because hops are the most obvious taste difference in a beer.
Another observation of their beer list was that all of the beers with the exception of one clocked in between four and five-percent. As I have stated before, the point of the Brew Tour is not to get drunk, it’s to taste some of the greatest craft beers that the world has to offer. But a range of different alcohol contents on a beer list shows a skill range from a brewer that should be highlighted.
Anyway, I had the Gordo’s Oatmeal Stout, while my partner in crime had the Monkey Knife Fight. The oatmeal stout was highlighted by its caramel flavor. Honestly the flavors were not too deep and initially I was not impressed with it. I thought that it actually had strong alcohol taste for a beer that comes in the mid four-percents. It grew on me as the meal went on, but in the end it was nothing too spectacular. However, that could be my personal preference because I do most enjoy big and bold flavored beers. This one just fell a little flat for me.
The Monkey Knife Fight, though, was tremendous. It was unique in its lemongrass and ginger contrasts having a strong ginger taste. A bit spicy yet still refreshing. Monkey Knife Fight is a fantastic summer beer, and it is certainly not one that you see everyday. This is the kind of beer that I like to see at small breweries and brew pubs because they show character and give a defining product that stands out from the cluttered competition. This is a beer that does it at Nodding Head.
Now, typically you would go to a brewery restaurant such as Nodding Head for the beer, and then all you ask from the food is that it doesn’t ruin your beer experience. Well, Nodding Head’s food definitely did not disappoint while sharing the spotlight with the craft brewed beer. The French dip sandwich was delicious, but it was actually the fries that stole the show on the plate. Served with dipping sauce courtesy of Monks Cafe, I’m pretty sure I would still be eating them if I wasn’t pried away from the table.
Nodding Head is an enjoyable place to sit down and grab a bar, which, a lot of the time, is really all you want and need in your go-to brew pub. There’s nothing uptight about the place and that’s what you want after a long day in the office or when you just kick back and watch a game. Pair it all with great beer and great food, Nodding Head is all you ever needed.