Long before food geeks aged sauerkraut in bourbon barrels and tended kombucha cultures like pets, Jonathan Myerow trademarked fermentation as his buzzword. It’s been eight years since he founded “fermentation café” Tria, the three-matchsticks-sized wine, beer and cheese bars he runs with partner Michael McCaulley. It’s been probably half as long since I’d been to the Rittenhouse flagship.
I found Tria much as I’d left it, cozy as a closet full of winter coats, a tunnel of jostling conversation and tinkling logo-etched stemware. While I’d been away, it seemed no one else had, least of all Alfredo Lorenzo, who’s been in charge of the kitchen since day one.
His realm is less a kitchen than a cubbyhole equipped with a miniature oven and panini press (alas, the smoked-mozzarella, cheddar and fontina grilled cheese was flabby and one-note).
With such little room, chef Patrick Vacca preps much of the menu at Tria’s deep South Philly commissary. There he roasts butternut squash with maple and thyme and crafts naturally cased sausages with local lamb, for example, to be trucked up to Rittenhouse. Lorenzo tops the squash with Apple Tree chevre, honeyed almonds and earthy pumpkin-seed oil and arranges the sausages over creamy gigante beans, fruity piquillo peppers and a Bulgarian feta sauce greened with mint. I liked both snacks, but not as much as my golden glass of iQhilika mead. Tria, as far as McCaulley knows, is the only place in Philly to pour this honey wine from South Africa.
Sourcing the rare, the reserve and the one-off is a skill at which McCaulley and Myerow have always excelled. Sure, the taps spout Saison Dupont and Dogfish 90, but also a ferocious Del Borgo framboise and Firestone Walker’s Parabola stout. Because Tria and wine go together like spiced apples and a wedge of fudgey, washed-rind Langes, it’s easy to overlook the thoroughbred beer program.
That said, an ambrosial chenin blanc lured me away from the beers for dessert. It’s produced in the Loire Valley, where humidity mists the riverside vines of the Saumur appellation, creating the coveted “noble rot” that turns the chenin grapes into veritable papayas, pineapples and mangoes. This tropical-fruit cocktail played well with two excellent American cheeses: creamy, virgin-white Westfield Capri chevre and butterscotchy, crystal-flecked Sartori SarVecchio, a beautiful expression of the Parmgiano style. One hails from Massachusetts, the other Wisconsin. Both are fine cheesemaking states, but so is our own, and Pennsylvania had no representation.
That changed later in the week when Yellow Springs Farm’s oak-wrapped Red Leaf appeared. Seems there’s always something new on the menu at Tria, reason enough to keep returning over eight more years.
Tria Café | 123 S. 18th St., 215-972-8742, triacafe.com. Open Sun.-Thu., noon-1 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon-1:30 a.m. Snacks, $2.50-$10.50; salads and sandwiches, $8.50-$11; desserts, $5.50-$6.50; cheeses, $6.50-$9.