The purpose of Amateur Night is to provide a platform where amateur performers can showcase and develop their skills. The ultimate goal is to create a cadre of talented, well-trained and well-groomed performance professionals with an effective understanding of the entertainment industry.
– Photo and definition courtesy of the Apollo Theater, where aspiring artists have been putting it all out there just about every Wednesday night since 1934.
The definition of amateur night in the restaurant biz takes on a rather less auspicious tone. It generally focuses on dates such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, two of the busiest dining nights of the year, populated largely by inexperienced diners and people who don’t otherwise eat out with any frequency. True cynics might extend the definition to include any Friday and Saturday, when weekend warriors clamor for reservations and take over the tables at all the hottest spots in town. Applying the above parameters, dining out on the Friday night before Valentine’s Day (which fell on a Saturday this year) packed the distinct possibility of a double-whammy curse.
Everything I’d read about Local 44, the new University City venture (at the corner of 44th and Spruce) opened on the first of the year by Memphis Taproom owners Brendan Hartranft and Leigh Maida, led me to expect it would be unaffected by the V-Day phenomena. Early reports at The Brew Lounge, Seen Through a Glass and Femme Fermental had all left me thirsting for a good vibe and some great beer.
The place was jammed on Friday the 13th, with throngs of students filling both the bar and dining sides of room. As expected, Valentine’s Day and amateur night dining didn’t seem to pose a problem; rather, I expect that’s the usual Friday night scenario for a “local” based only a few short blocks from UPenn’s campus.
The problem was that it seemed to be amateur night in the kitchen.
If there’s one thing a bar’s kitchen should have dialed in before anything else, it’s a hamburger (or, one might argue, fries). What I was served at Local 44 should never have been put down in front of me. The white bread roll was too stale even for the two-day-old bin at a corner bakery. The burger, which I ordered medium-rare, was just barely warm, bordering on raw yet still somehow greasy, and so loosely packed that clumps of ground beef fell from the bun at almost every bite. A lettuce leaf, unripe tomato slice and wedge of raw onion did little to make up for what they adorned, with a properly melted slice of decent cheddar (a $1 upcharge) providing the only saving grace. Perhaps the fact that it’s called a “Meat Burger” on the menu should have warned me off. The fries, thankfully, had decent, fresh cut potato flavor, even if they were limp and over-salted.
Since the food at Local 44 is clearly taking a back seat to what’s on tap, it’s comforting to find that they’ve at least gotten their core mission right. Don’t go looking for the usual line-up of bottled brews, as Orval is the one and only beer offered in bottle. It’s the draft line-up that’s already made Local 44 a worthy destination for beer geeks, with about two dozen selections at very fair prices. And it’s perfectly drawn offerings such as Coniston Bluebird Bitter and North Coast Brewing Company’s “Old Rasputin” Russian Imperial Stout that’ll keep me coming back for more. Just not on a Friday night. And not, anytime soon at least, for another shot at their burger.
4333 Spruce Street [map]
Philadelphia, PA 19104