Twist My Tail: An Evening at a Bourbon Juke Joint

Sitting on the cobblestone lanes of Society Hill lies the Twisted Tail, a Southern-inspired Bourbon House and Juke Joint featuring charcoal bistro cuisine. With its slate colored walls, beautifully crafted wooden furniture, and petite jug-shaped lights, the restaurant’s interior resembles that of a dark barn. Chandeliers, which appear to be constructed from leftover metal scraps, swing above the tables, while pickled vegetables line the shelved windows. Black and white photographs of rural houses and teenage boys lolling in front of gas stations neatly hang along the walls, all of which add to the restaurant’s, albeit false, feeling of being family-owned and run. The clean plates, textured glasses, and white napkins accented with raspberry colored vertical lines further enhance this homey impression, as does the array of inventive comfort food that Penn Appetit had the pleasure of trying last week.

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Our meal began with a bang. Well, a pop. What better way to look over an extensive menu of grilled plates, Southern favorites, and refreshing seasonal cocktails than while munching on delicious popcorn? Answer: when that popcorn is seasoned with rosemary infused olive oil and bacon. And, as the restaurant’s name would indicate, bacon is a staple at the Twisted Tail. Forget Paula Deen and her butter – bacon makes it better.

Popcorn infused with rosemary olive oil and bacon: It's popcorn so it's still sort of good for you, right?
Popcorn infused with rosemary olive oil and bacon: It’s popcorn so it’s still sort of good for you, right?

Twist and Shout: A Southern Heirloom
Inspired by the peak of tomato season, Executive Chef Leo Forneas crafts a satisfying heirloom tomato salad that delights the eyes as much as it does the palette. Ripe and juicy red, yellow, and purple tomatoes are wedged and marinated in a light vinaigrette, garnished with fresh greens. The epitome of summer, the dish is topped with – and here’s the stunner – a half round of local burrata cheese. The solid mozzarella shell and the creamy center, perfectly seasoned with rock salt and cracked black pepper, infuses this take on a classic caprese with new life. Even with the creaminess of the cheese, the salad is perfectly paired with the heartier dishes from their grilled menu.

Heirloom tomato salad:  These are vegetables that you'll want to eat.  Plus, they're kinda smothered in cheese.
Heirloom tomato salad: These are vegetables that you’ll want to eat. Plus, they’re kinda smothered in cheese.

Don’t Miss: At the Twisted Tail, every week is restaurant week. 7 days a week from 5-7pm, the Twisted Tail offers a three course prix-fixe menu for just $29 a person. That means you can indulge in their crawfish mac and cheese, cornbread, and bbq ribs without shrinking your wallet. (Note: studies have shown that there is an indirect correlation between the shrinking of your wallet and the expansion of your waistline.)

Can You Do the Twist?
Nothing tastes like summer quite like food hot off the grill. The Twisted Tail delivers with a variety of grilled plates and appetizers that will cure your barbeque craving. From Southern favorites, like the rack of ribs with Carolina slaw, to more contemporary takes, like the grilled chicken and apple sausage with pear slaw and stone ground mustard, when it comes to the art of the grill, the Twisted Tail gets serious. The ribs, basted – never drowned – in a sweet and spicy sauce and garnished with a pure Carolina slaw, fall off the bone. And right into your mouth. Where they belong. The chicken and apple sausage pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the pear slaw, while the stone ground mustard provides an exhilarating kick. Imparting that sought-after smokey flavor, Chef Forneas’ charcoal-burning grill makes for effortless dishes that allow the natural flavor of the fish, meat, and vegetables to come through.

The country bbq spare ribs are finger lickin' good!
The country bbq spare ribs are finger lickin’ good!
Shaped like a smile, the chicken and apple sausage is hot off the grill and beats the kind you can grab from the gourmet market under Commons.
Shaped like a smile, the chicken and apple sausage is hot off the grill and beats the kind you can grab from the gourmet market under Commons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twist from Side to Side
Two show-stoppers – the crawfish mac and cheese and the homestyle cornbread – are contenders for the best items on the menu. Both are Southern staples. Both are served, piping hot, in an iron skillet. And both embody everything that is good in life. The crawfish mac and cheese, a nod to Louisiana fare, does not disappoint. From the crunch of the golden brown crust, to the smooth and creamy wonderscape that is the pasta and cheese, to the little gems of crawfish that make you smile when you get a bite, this dish melts away all other worries and cares.

Crawfish mac and cheese: Milk it for all it's worth
Crawfish mac and cheese: Milk it for all it’s worth.
Mmm dig into that tasty concoction!
Mmm dig into that tasty concoction!

The Twisted Tail’s cornbread is a close second. Served warm and buttery, the cornbread’s crusted top and soft, crumbly center make it irresistible. These side dishes definitely stand up to the hearty entrees that have come to define the Twisted Tail.

Cornbread: It's a skillet sensation
Cornbread: It’s a skillet sensation.
Crumbly and buttery--what more could you ask for?
Crumbly and buttery–what more could you ask for?

Twist Real High, then Twist Real Low
As the restaurant filled with the sounds of a soulful guitar and the bar overflowed with eager customers, a round of entrees came our way. From succulent scallops and mouth-watering steak to staple low country shrimp and grits and summery burgers, the Twisted Tail offers a variety of satisfying entrees. Served atop a bed of steaming fingerling potatoes, creamy blue cheese, and an aromatic wild mushroom jus, the grilled flatiron steak epitomizes high-class comfort food. Perfectly tender and cooked to a tee, the juicy steak’s flavors playfully collided with those of the more potent blue cheese and mushroom jus.

Grilled flatiron steak: It's raising the stakes.
Grilled flatiron steak: It’s raising the stakes.

Don’t Miss: Are you and your large group of friends tired of shareable tapas and family-styled Italian and Chinese cuisine? For a minimum of 10 people at $40 a pop, the Twisted Tail can host a Southern pig roast for you. Watch as the slow roasted pig is hand carved into delectable dishes. Discounts are offered to groups of 20 or more.

Rather than being presented on a crisp, white plate, the fried chicken appeared steaming in a brown paper bag atop a wooden cutting board. Harkening back to the years of packed lunches, the bag erupted with layers of treats. Crisp and candied sweet potato fries toppled over the edge of the bag, enticing you to eat them first, while the saccharine pickled okra gently filled the empty spaces between the fries and the chicken. Incredibly moist, although a tad fatty, the farm-fresh fried chicken contained a syrupy rosemary honey glaze, which oozed into the thick breading. Unfortunately, this interaction did cause the breading to lose the typical crispy crunch associated with fried chicken. Nonetheless, the chicken in a bag is an innovative version of a classic and is truly a feast for the eyes. Bursting with flavor and unique pairings, Chef Forneas’ entrees bend any expectations of the typical tastes and textures of a Southern inspired meal.

Fried chicken in a bag:  It's in a bag
Fried chicken in a bag: It’s in a bag.
Tastes like chicken.
Tastes like chicken.

Twist ‘till you Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler
For dessert, the Twisted Tail refuses to go light. Didn’t save room for something heavy? No worries, there’s always room for dessert (it’s been scientifically proven). Not to mention that the live music and an extensive bourbon and whiskey menu can keep you occupied while you digest and prepare yourself for what lies ahead. The beignets, the Twisted Tail’s prized dessert, come neatly presented in yet another tiny, brown bag. The dainty rounds of lightly fried dough are indeed different than those usually found in the South. Rather than possessing an airy—almost hollow interior—the Twisted Tail’s beignets are filled to the brim with a fluffy dough. And, instead of drowning the beignets with powdered sugary goodness, these beignets are dusted with only a slight amount of sugar in the raw and are served alongside a thick bourbon glaze. The pillowy beignets effortlessly melted on our tongues as we took bite after bite, beignet after beignet (be warned–they come in packs of six, an equally shareable and not so shareable number).

Beignets
Beignets served with a bourbon glaze.
A filling and fluffy interior
Check out that filling and fluffy interior.
Leave it to the French to improve even the doughnut.
Leave it to the French to improve even the doughnut.

Don’t Miss: On Saturday, July 27th from 9pm to close, celebrate Christmas in July with the Twisted Tail! Presents will come in the form of live music, drink specials, and flight giveaways. What more do you need to heal that summertime sadness?

The Twisted Tail not only understands the importance of catering to different tastes but also to different personalities. Indulging in a multi-course meal not your style? Head up the narrow staircase to the juke joint for a chill open blues night, guitar jamming session (no need to byo, guitars can be borrowed off the wall), or relaxed game of shuffleboard. Not quite the extrovert? Return downstairs to the horseshoe shaped bar for some slow sips or a long flight. Love live music? The Twisted Tail’s got you covered with live music performances 5 nights a week.

Let’s face the facts, when it comes to food, twisted is always better. Think about it. Twisted fritos – infinitely better than regular fritos. Twisted soft-serve ice cream – oh yeah, all about that chocolate and vanilla swirl. Twisted curly fries – need I say more? The Twisted Tail understands how we feel, giving us classic Southern comfort with a contemporary twist.

The Twisted Tail, a Bourbon House and Juke Joint specializing in Charcoal Bistro Cuisine, is located on 509 S. 2nd St. Lunch is served Monday-Friday from 12pm-5pm; brunch is served on Sunday from 10am-5pm. Dinner is served from 5pm-10pm Sunday-Thursday and until 12am on Friday and Saturday. The bar is open from 5pm to 12am Sunday-Thursday and until 1am on Friday and Saturday. Happy hour is from 4:30pm-7:30pm everyday. The restaurant week special runs from 5pm-7pm daily. Reservations can be made through the website via Opentable and private events or gift cards can be booked by emailing sales@thetwistedtail.com or calling 215-558-2471.

–Katie Behrman and KC Boas

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