Brisket and Brews

Khyber Pass Pub

Old City has plenty of hidden gems lining the cobblestone streets and filling the brick buildings that make you truly wonder what it would be like if these walls could talk. A few blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, sits a one of those gems — Khyber Pass Pub.

As the first recommendation to Brisket and Brews, the pub has a history in Old City. Prior to the end of 2010, visitors knew the space as The Khyber, a fun bar filled with new live bands, originally opened in the 1970s under the name with a history unlike any other in this part of Philly. But in November 2010, Khyber Pass Pub launched its renovations to the space, expanding the tap system to 22 rotating beers and bringing in the Southern-style menu, which brings us in eight years later.

Walking under the wooden sign, past the old wooden door, the dark space welcomes you with a vintage bar, crafted in 1876 by German woodworkers and used in the Centennial Celebration. The 22-taps behind the bar are filled by a scattering of PA beers, like Philadelphia Brewing Company, Tröegs, Victory, and Sly Fox.

Khyber Pass Pub's sign on 2nd Street. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Tom Ipri

While the menu is filled with great food, and Khyber Pass even offers what looks like a killer brunch — New Orleans Brunch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday — you'll have to wait for the brisket and some of the other barbecue platters and sandwiches. But, oh, is it worth it.

We stopped in early in the day for a lunch, and the waitress let us know that the brisket wouldn't be ready until around 5. We stayed for a few beers, then spent a few hours walking around Philly, spending most of the time at the Independence Beer Garden (great outdoor spot to check out, while it's warm out.)

Safe to say we came back right at 5 with hungry stomachs. Sticking with a Philly beer, I went with Philadelphia Brewing Co.'s Kenzinger, a light-bodied combination of "German Pilsner malts and American Noble hops."

We started with the Southern appetizer of Boudin Balls, which I never had before, but the sausage-filled rice balls were served with "Steen's cane syrup-creole mustard sauce" and pickled onions. The spiciness is matched by the rich flavor, and the mustard rounds it all out for a blast of flavor. Highly recommend starting out with this appetizer, and another one — the bacon grease popcorn. I think every other time a server came out of the kitchen, they were carrying the popcorn.

Now for the main star of the visit — the brisket platter. It comes with two sides. The "big-ass biscuit" caught my eye, and I'm a sucker for some good sweet potato fries, but I made sure to ask my server what he'd recommend. Immediately he said, "Oh, definitely the collard greens and mac and cheese." A bit hesitant on the collard green, since I never had them before, but I trusted his enthusiasm behind his answer.

With the appetizer, the server also put three bbq sauces on the table: a Kansas City tomato-based sauce, a South Carolina mustard-based sauce, and the last, a North Carolina vinegar-based sauce.

Then the platter came out in all of its glory.

Four thick slabs of brisket and generous bowls of collard greens and baked mac and cheese.

At first sight, I could already tell the brisket would melt apart. And that it did. The flavor in the hickory-smoked brisket was amazing by itself. Then I grabbed one barbecue sauce after another, each amazing and totally different in its flavor. I switched between the three sauces and the brisket on its own, getting new flavors in every bite.

I've heard of collard greens as a Southern staple, and these greens lived up to my expectations. Done perfectly, they were a bit spicy but tasty and had me going back for more even after I had torn apart and cut more brisket to dive into; a great contrast to the savory mac and cheese. The baked top and the creaminess of the mac and cheese round out the platter for a perfect array of flavors. From the sauces to the greens to the mac and cheese, all the flavors stood up to the rest. The Kenzinger beer was the perfectly refreshing taste to go with the meal.

And, yes, I did have leftovers. Yes, I did make sure to squeeze in some of the tomato-based and mustard-based sauces to have later. Most importantly, it tasted just as good the second time around.

Khyber Pass Pub has the type of menu that will have you coming back to try everything. The Southern sides and main dishes offer something new with different combinations every time. The rotating beer list features PA beers and a good variety from all over.

While heading in for the food is highly recommended, the bar is a fun place to sit and have a few beers, hang with friends and just enjoy the music and good vibes.

Check out Khyber Pass Pub on Instagram.

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