We recently visited Morgan’s Pier to sample some drinks and few things off of Chef Jim Burke’s new menu.
We also sent some questions for Jim to answer. But we’ll get to that later; first the pictures!
First of all, Morgan’s Pier is beautiful. They spent a lot of time and effort on really making it feel welcoming and comfortable for patrons.
Located adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, directly on the waterfront, the view is spectacular.
We went on one of those cool Spring days last week, so there weren’t too many people hanging out, but that was fine by us. We were able to enjoy it without any distraction and we were served quickly. It was really nice and peaceful on our visit. I’m sure once the season is in full swing, it’s going to be very crowded, busy and… loud.
I love that they have seating facing the boat slips on the river. I love the riverfront. It’s calming and I just love the smell of it. This location in particular is exciting – you hear the whoosh of cars going over the bridge – occasionally the PATCO train. It just makes me feel alive. So even though you have the hustle & bustle of the city going on all around you, this spot is kind of tranquil.
While Morgan’s Pier is officially a “riverdeck,” the addition of greenery, trees, plants, and flowers add a fresh energy to the space. Riverfront Booze Garden? I’ll take it any day of the week! 😊
Morgan’s Pier wins on appearance and location alone. But certainly it is not the only draw and what make it a true summer destination. It is the perfect spot for good grub and libations, too. They are so smart by having a new chef-in-residence every year; it ensures the menu is different and diverse. Definitely something to look forward to every year.
There are several cocktails on the menu — 14 of them to be exact. If you’re like me when faced with such a large choice of cocktails, you’ll probably go for the one with whiskey. The Kentucky Collins ($10) is a twist on the Tom Collins but made with Bulliet Rye, fresh lemon juice, mint simple syrup, and club soda. A truly refreshing way to start the evening.
From Kentucky to South Philly…
There are many shareable snacks and starters to choose from, but one distinctly stood out on the menu – the South Philly Fries ($9) – hand-cut fries topped with sausage & peppers and “housemade whiz.”… but this ain’t your average South Philly whiz. It’s elevated whiz. It’s oozy, smooth Cooper sharp (American) cheese whiz. Hello! The sausage was flavorful but surprisingly not too rich and didn’t overpower or weigh down the fries. My only wish? More, larger cut peppers. They added a nice sweetness – balancing out the flavors – but were under-represented in this dish. We could have eaten these all night, but stopped about halfway through so we could enjoy the other items we ordered.
From South Philly to Maine…
When you see Lobster Roll ($19) on the menu — you order the Lobster Roll! The truly wonderful thing about this lobster roll is that it wasn’t laden with mayonnaise. In other words, it wasn’t lobster salad on a roll, which would have been atrocious. The lobster is the star here and it shines; succulent and wonderful just as you’d expect fresh lobster meat to be. The potato roll is lightly coated in a tarragon aoili. I didn’t taste the tarragon, though. No big deal — it’s all about the Lobstah here! It came with fresh housemade chips. I usually find housemade chips boring, but these were good and not overly salty.
If beer is your thing, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a decent selection of craft beer on the menu, both on tap and in cans. They had my new favorite brew New Belguim Fat Tire on draft, but the Smuttynose Vunderbar! Pilsner caught my eye so I went in that direction. So glad I did — as its lower alcohol content went perfectly with the Lobster Roll and housemade chips.
There are only three entrees on the menu. I’m sure this is by design since Morgan’s Pier is not fine dining — it’s FUN dining! But it’s good they offer larger plates for those with heartier appetites. The Roasted Lamb for two ($32) sounds delightful – however it would have been too much food for us. So hubby ordered the Slow-Cooked Half Chicken ($19), which was a really good choice. The chicken was perfectly cooked, with a nice lightly crispy skin on the outside, and very juicy on the inside. Classic preparation. The sides included: sautéed fennel and green bean & cherry tomato salad. The fennel imparted a sweet flavor which was a nice counterpoint to the savory chicken.
Overall, we were really pleased with the execution of the dishes. Chef Jim Burke has put together an ideal menu for a beer garden on the Delaware. There’s variety; something for everyone to enjoy and for many different preferences, diets and special needs, too.
Since I couldn’t meet with Chef Jim in person, I sent him some questions to answer and he sent them back. Check it out:
Philly Grub: Besides for the opportunity to cook in Philadelphia again, what was the deciding factor for you to become this year’s chef-in-residence?
Chef Jim Burke: It’s just a really exciting venue. Morgan’s Pier has very quickly established itself as a major summertime destination in Philadelphia, and I felt like it would be something that would be great to be a part of, it has a great energy. It’s also a case of great timing. I was finishing a consulting gig and we have several months before Kristina and I have our ducks in a row for our own project, so it’s just a great fit. Avram (Hornik, owner of Morgan’s Pier) seems to have a knack for securing chefs that have a perfectly timed window of opportunity for this project.
PG: The menu has nice variety; what do you think seems to be the favorite dishes among patrons since you’ve been open? In other words, what dishes are selling well?
JB: We really made a concerted effort to put together a very accessible menu that’s geared toward the way most people eat here, which focuses on a lot of shareable snacks and sandwiches. We’re selling a lot of french fries, wings, and burgers, of course, but we’ve been getting great feedback across the board and are really happy with the variety of items that people are ordering.
What do you like the most cooking at Morgan’s Pier so far?
We’ve had some very challenging weather since we’ve opened, so I feel like we haven’t gotten into a rhythm yet. However, our opening weekend was crazy busy and the energy in the place was electric, just really fun to be around.
PG: Do you feel that the cooler and wetter weather in the past week has impacted business lately?
JB: Absolutely! We are a completely outdoor venue, so while every restaurant if affected by the weather, we are totally dependent on it. The difference between busy and slow for us is extreme, and, unfortunately, we’ve felt the impact of the incessant rain. I’m not worried, pretty soon I’ll be hoping for a rainy day just to catch my breath!
PG: Are there any special things planned for the season that you can share – food/drink? Or will the menu pretty much stay the same?
JB: The menu will definitely be changing throughout the season. We are dedicated to cooking seasonally, and put a lot of effort into sourcing as much local product as possible – which can be difficult, logistically, considering the volume that we do. We are also putting a major focus on booking our chef’s menu dinners in the crow’s nest, which have a maximum of 20 people, and gives us more of an opportunity to be creative with our menus and customize our guests’ experience.
PG: MANNA’s Gauc Off is happening on May 26th (which I posted about here), tell us why your guac will win? Do you think you’ll have “home turf advantage” so to speak?
JB: We’re going to do something interesting, but not too off the wall; it will still make sense, just a little twist. Hosting the event will definitely facilitate the process for us, but it won’t provide any advantage in this case. If the food for this event were something that was difficult to transport, or suffered in some way by travelling, then yes, we would certainly have an advantage.
Thanks, Chef Jim – for answering our questions – and for the great food at Morgan’s Pier. We’re recommending that everybody visit, try your food, enjoy lots of drinks, and hang out. We’ll definitely be back really soon!
The Doyenne of Dining in Philadelphia and South Jersey.