Salads and sandwiches $9.25-$12
Hot soft pretzels, braised ribs, crab and corn chowder, pan-seared sea bass
By now, David Dietz must have served enough of his fantastic soft pretzels to join fellow champions of the industry—Auntie Anne, Ed Rendell and the grandma from Snyder’s of Hanover—on some kind of Mount Rushmore of pretzels.
Yes, the pretzels made famous by Dietz’s Brandywine Brewing Co. in Greenville have been revived at his new BBC Tavern and Grill. They may not be gratis, as they were at the old BBC, but they still pack a soft, yet firm and perfectly seasoned bite that’s miles better than anything this side of Rittenhouse Square. The scene-stealing co-stars, two righteously dippable homemade mustards, are back as well, with all the gooey apple sweetness and spicy horseradish giddyup you remember.
There’s much more going on at the BBC, but its famous pretzels—ostensibly bar snacks that have been elevated to something greater—are the perfect symbol of its strength. BBC Tavern absolutely nails upscale casual.
Its menu is filled with gastropub food at decent prices (in line with say, an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant), but sprinkled with nifty little Greenville extravagances. There is meatloaf with Thai chili cream, crab cakes with pepper rouille and ribs flown in from Denmark. Here’s the neighborhood pub for the neighborhood with the state’s highest per capita income.
Credit Dietz for knowing his surroundings—and for knowing exactly how his friends and customers like to let their hair down. If Las Vegas is America’s playground, then BBC is Greenville’s playground. Despite the immense popularity of nearby Pizza By Elizabeths and healthy business at nearby taverns Cromwell’s and Buckley’s, response to BBC’s comeback has been positive. You will see someone you know there.
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Those returning to the fold will find the restaurant has traded in some of its expanse for intimacy, as well as some hunter’s den chic. First of all, the place is scaled down, having taken root in Pizza By Elizabeths’ previous space (which of course moved last year into the former Brandywine Brewing Co.’s old space). A mahogany bar dominates the room, a signal that perhaps the tavern takes precedence over the grill here.
In two opposing dining areas, ocher walls loom above tall, darkly stained wainscoting, and repurposed church pews stand in place of banquette seating. Cathedral ceilings and a gas-burning fireplace illuminate local artwork, including several prints of outdoorsy etchings by Gordon Allen.
The kitchen is under the orchestration of chef Mark Doto, whos has run the line at Iron Hill, Eclipse, Zanzibar Blue and Krazy Kat’s, and who performed pastry duty at Domaine Hudson. Doto’s most impressive experience is a stint at the Inn at Little Washington, an award-winning luxury inn and restaurant in Virginia. It’s a tad surprising, then, that BBC’s bar munchies and light bites so outshine its ambitious main courses.
Pretzels and mustard are a must. (Is Dietz missing a huge money-making opportunity by not selling them retail? Who wouldn’t want a legit piece of culinary Delawareana as a gift?) Crab chowder is another legacy item from the old Brewing Co., and there’s no mistaking why. Sweet corn blends harmoniously with strands of blue crab. The soup’s silky texture and cream color stands up to the vivid flavors.
Monster baked nachos could feed an entire Greenville sidewalk sale. Those East Coast must-haves, crab cakes and crab dip, were treated with the reverence they deserve. And the alluring little threesome of babyback ribs tickled my inner art-designer. Lined up all shiny and firebrick red against a white plate, they were dabbed with threads of watercress and wedged up with triangles of corn bread done cowboy style in a cast-iron skillet. Not too sweet, it served as a great straight man for the fall-off-the-bone ribs, which were sauced in a smoldering, slow-burning sriracha barbecue glaze that still tingled on the lips minutes after you tossed the bone. Two messy thumbs way up.
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Salads, though less manly than ribs, were an interesting bunch. One standout unleashed the awesome flavor power of fresh figs, prosciutto and Parmesan on some unsuspecting arugula and grape tomatoes. Roasted mushroom salad was a welcome eyebrow raiser, containing separate portions of roasted local mushrooms, wilted mesclun greens and crisp sweet potato fries.
After enjoying several consistently well-executed small plates, the entrée menu got a bit off track. Many dishes seemed a bit overdressed or too exotic to work totally. In many cases, subtracting one or two ingredients from the final product would’ve made a stark improvement.
Take the 14-ounce Delmonico steak. It looked and sounded impressive—“served with a traditional Argentinean chimicurri sauce, ancho-demi glace and Spanish frites”—but the dish itself never matched the scintillating copy. The menu made no mention of the unnecessary gorgonzola cheese, which topped an otherwise juicy steak that was already double-sauced. Spanish frites boiled down to steak fries mingled with slivers of onion and green pepper.
Barbecue-dusted scallops were well seared and contained a nice, subtle smokiness, but the dish ultimately felt discombobulated. The scallops lacked any connection to a coconutty Thai green curry sauce and the hemisphere of herb-infused green rice.
Pan-seared sea bass, beautifully caramelized to a pleasing crisp exterior that relented to flaky moist flesh, was a step forward. There were no exotic pairings—just proper mashed potatoes and asparagus—but the duel of Thai chili sauce and Indonesian kecap manis sauce teetered on cloying. It worked for me, but those with less of a sweet tooth might not agree.
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Speaking of sweet, Doto’s kitchen regained its balance at dessert. An apple-cranberry crisp that truly delivered on crispiness—and delivered a bonus of warm ginger-caramel sauce—was ideal for a chilly night. The banana-chocolate bread pudding (a dessert primed for a comeback of its own) wasn’t as solid as I generally like bread pudding, but it oozed with a delicious chocolate sauce that reminded me of Nutella.
Service was generally fine, but there were a few small hiccups. One server had an odd habit of scurrying off before we could finish ordering. I hoped to try a few starter dishes, but she made like Usain Bolt after I mentioned just one. It wasn’t a disaster by any stretch, but it made us feel hurried, especially since the dinner rush was about to hit, making the opportunity to flip our table more apparent. On another night, two servers couldn’t decide whose table we occupied. Again, nothing catastrophic, but the incidents stood notice.
Variety and value are a few traits of BBC’s wine list, with most bottles landing between $20 and $30, with a few high-end, hard-to-find selections (like the highly sought Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon) fetching more. The beer list offered enough reasonably priced American microbrews to satisfy and maybe even impress the ever-growing army of beer snobs. Why dime out $3.50 on a pint of Coors Light when a buck-fifty more can get you the latest seasonal from Leinenkugel? A great bottle selection is heavy on fruit beers, from Lindemans Lambic Peche to Dogfish Head’s Raisin D’Etre to my new favorite, Sea Dog’s Blueberry Wheat. It also included selections from popular microbreweries Victory, Tröegs and Magic Hat.
During its 10 years in business, Brandywine Brewing Co. built feverish loyalty among not only its many customers, but its staff as well. Many employees have joined the ranks of BBC Tavern customers, who lined up at this fun pub all winter. “It’s like reuniting an old family,” Dietz says. Scale back to match the simple salty pleasure of, say, a hot soft pretzel, then watch this family reunion really get rolling.