Wine or beer? Fish or beef? Dessert or cheese? Dining in a restaurant is a process fraught with decisions, one often affecting the next, like the pages in a twist-a-plot book. But nowhere besides Stephen Starr's spiffy new German beer garden, Frankford Hall, will your friend take sip of his pint, turn to you and ask, "Ping-Pong or Jenga?"
Frankford Hall has both, as well as a variety of other vintage-packaged board games stacked by the mustard and curry ketchup dispensers. After ordering our beers at the bar on the garden's south side — predictably heavy on Teutonic brews — and ordering food from the counter on the north, we settled into a match of the latter block-stacking game, it being 90-plus degrees and the less sweat-inducing of the two activities.
Twenty-foot brick walls of an abandoned Fishtown warehouse frame the airy courtyard on three sides, sucking in whatever unsuspecting breeze wanders by like water down a drain. Even on days so hot and still that everything outside seems suspended in molasses, Frankford Hall's squad of shady Linden trees are in perpetual rustle.
It's cool here, in both definitions of the word, but the hot mustard will definitely make you sweat. Spread it along the curves of the warm Bavarian pretzel — way better than the clammy cheese dip, and not $2 — or on one of six sausages served naked. To get them snuggled in potato buns costs an extra buck. Only the frankfurter, crafted by Illg's Meats, a 54-year-old German butcher shop in Bucks County, comes on a roll. Hot, plump and perspiring with juices just itching for your teeth to free them, it makes a damn fine summer dog.
I also tried the kasekrainer, beef, pork and cheese mummified in a casing so taut and strong I needed a chainsaw to get through it. Fiercely tangy but mushy red cabbage and uncharacteristically creamy German potato salad piled on the disappointment like so many Jenga blocks before me. But there was salvation in the haystack of thin, salty fries (unreal with the sweet curry ketchup), springy spaetzle and jaegerschnitzel, crisp cutlet perfection flooded with mushroom gravy.
Conceived by S.R.O. corporate chef Chris Painter and executed by Jim Davidson, formerly of Barclay Prime, Butcher & Singer and Starr's Art Museum café, the menu is due for a makeover in the coming months. Once the Linden trees shed their leaves, the glass garage doors that divide the beer garden from the eatery's interior will be sealed for the season, and Frankford Hall will offer a more traditional restaurant experience.
Too early to start thinking Oktoberfest?
Frankford Hall | 1210 Frankford Ave., 267-639-3063, frankfordhall.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-2 a.m. Appetizers, $5-$12; sausages, $5-$9; entrées, $14-$15; sides, $3-$4; dessert, $2.50-$3.