It wasn’t too long ago that having 60 craft beers on tap would set a place apart from the crowd. Not any more. With the beer epidemic in full swing, additional elements have to come into play.
Rochester Tap Room makes its mark with the clever use of a well-designed space, an energetic young chef who’s not afraid to go beyond bar food, and an upbeat crew serving the uncovered tables under a two-story ceiling lit by Edison bulbs. It’s the fourth regime to take over the attractive balconied room in a strip of shops that includes Papa Joe’s Market. If it manages to have staying power, it will be the first to do so.
Sometimes what looks like a great location doesn’t turn out that way. Mike LaBranche admits that the short runs of the predecessors in the space were a concern. Still, he and his co-proprietors, Missy Markevics and chef Travis Waynick, forged ahead with their plan, completely departing from the white tablecloths and copper peppermills of the steak house that had previously tried to make a go of it. Now, the intentionally scarred tile floors, re-purposed old wood and artifacts recalling the Prohibition era give the place a casually comfortable feeling.
Chef Waynick has come up with a distinctive list of dishes from better-than-bar-snacks to solid entrees, viewed not with a paper menu, but via tablet. The tablet menus show each dish as it looks (or should look) when it comes from the kitchen. The first time I encountered this menu style (at Bistro 82 in Royal Oak), it seemed novel and entertaining. Not so much at a casual spot like the Rochester Tap Room. Scrolling through what seems an endless list of beverages and food choices just makes a chore of ordering, at least in my view.
I have to admit, though, that my Tap burger, an eight-ounce patty of beef piled high with house bacon, melted cheese, a ruffle of lettuce, tomato, and moistened with beer mustard, just one of several variations on the burger, really looked like its tablet image and met the taste test as well. It, and other sandwiches, such as the excellent three-cheese grilled cheese and the interesting variation on the club sandwich, made not with the classic ingredients, but with prosciutto, bacon, salami and tomato jam, are accompanied by fresh, warm potato chips or, for an extra charge, hand-cut rosemary and sea salt-dusted fries.
Some unexpected options include Brussels sprouts poutine made with cheddar cheese curds and mushroom gravy, smoked salmon pate and Yukon gold tater tots that offer a little insight into the chef’s creative style, which includes such substantial stuff as baby back ribs in half or full slab, maple-glazed duck breast, or, at the top of the food chain, smoked rib eye at $27.
Rochester Tap Room, open for just a few weeks now, is off to a promising start.
Rochester Tap Room
Papa Joe’s Plaza,
6870 N. Rochester,
Call: (248) 650-2500
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.,
11 a.m.-10 Mon.-Thurs.,
11 a.m.-midnight Fri.,
10 a.m.-midnight-Sat. (Bar later)
Prices: Appetizers $7-$12,
burgers and sandwiches $8.50-$11.50, soups and salads $4.50-$8, desserts $5-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar with an emphasis on 60 tap beers
Noise level: Moderate to high
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers