Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. This is a strict motto of mine and many other foodies, I’m sure, who are on the lookout for hidden gems, hole in the walls, the “undergrounds,” etc. Call them what you will because the terminology is not important. Instead, you should be more focused on what food or drink element has taken you by surprise. For The Pickering Creek Inn, at the end of Phoenixville’s busy Bridge Street, that element is the entire menu and the majority of draft beers as well.
I first wandered into The Pickering Creek Inn (okay to call “The Pick” after a few visits) with a craft beer comrade around Christmas time a couple years back. Neither of us had been living in the area for long and we were quick to jump on a tip from a friend who we considered a local. Had he not provided the recommendation, I know my senses would have picked it out otherwise. The simplistic exterior always reminded me a little bit of my podunk hometown where friendly neighborhood bars and mom-n-pop restaurants are all you will find after searching high and low for days.
It turned out my local friend was spot on when it came to the beer. Lots of choices. Unique breweries. Tasty crafts. The cuisine wasn’t too far off either and not what I was expecting to find, simply because of the laid back atmosphere that surrounded me. There was no hostess or formally dressed service personnel and I loved it. Back then I regularly ordered the plantain nachos and ventured through a few deliciously juicy and gigantic burgers. While I enjoyed the past offerings from The Pick, their new Chef, Aaron Holmes, and his fall menu pack a heavy punch. The kind of punch you want to get hit straight in the mouth with, over and over again.
“We try to make everything from scratch. Ketchup is probably the only thing we’re not making back here,” Aaron explained to me as he bustled from stove to fridge and back to the stove. “All the dough for our pizza is made right in house.”
He later delved into the fact that all the smoked meat on the menu is also prepared using The Pick’s equipment situated right outside the kitchen door. Aaron truly does it all, but he still longs for the day when he can prove that in front of a television audience on his favorite show, Chopped. Large audience or not, I would never think to give his culinary skills the cut.
Although a fan of Food Network and celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay, Aaron seemed to hone most of his skills during a previous job at Bella Vista Country Club. Some inspiration also stemmed from his mother’s cooking habits growing up.
“We didn’t eat out too much and my mom always had dinner cooked for us. My siblings and I were on different schedules so we’d get home at separate times and everything would be on the stove to dig in. It was a lot of comfort foods. Soups, pastas. But never onions for me. I hate onions.”
Aaron’s deeply rooted preferences didn’t stop him from working the loathed vegetable into one of my dishes that day. It made an appearance as a red onion jam atop the chipotle pork sliders and I was very grateful for that. The mini sammies were finished up with provolone and a homemade cilantro relish. There was a kick to the tiny treat that didn’t present itself up front but gradually lingered at the end my bite. I confidently deemed it the perfect amount of spice.
Chef Aaron also whipped up a roasted garlic pizza with arugula and seasonal tomatoes. I couldn’t have been more pleased and was adamant that he had done research on my dining preferences before I arrived since those toppings were a few of my favorite things. The nearly circular dough was freshly made that morning and baked to a thin crust. It’s crispy texture was a perfect date for the seasoned arugula, savory garlic, and juicy tomatoes. However, the four magnificent elements might have been lost in consumption had it not been for the parmesan shredded on top before I dug in.
For my third dish, I explored a delicious appetizer that made every potato skin of my past seem inadequate. Chef Aaron added a seafood twist to the classic by topping it off with chunks of tender lobster. Once the meat was cooked, he boiled the shell and used that stock for flavoring in a lobster cream sauce that was drizzled along the top. It mingled with the scallions and roasted red pepper, while slowly melting the cheese. Every bite was better than the one before as the cheddar oozed in my mouth and couldn’t escape being soaked up by chunks of warm potato. The tasty appetizer is only one of seven on their menu. In fact, all the items they serve are listed with room to spare on the front of an 8 ½ x 11 laminated paper.
“Our menu is more about quality than quantity. Sometimes you go into these restaurants and open a seven page book. By the time you get to the last page, you don’t remember what was on the first,” Ken Kaufmann, Pickering Creek’s Owner, told me. Ken laughed at his own witty comment but not before I beat him to the punch with an agreeing nod and giggle. “Our food is more of a gastropub style.”
We sat at the table, Aaron, Ken and I, chomping our way through the tasty items that were prepared only moments prior. Ken was exactly right. Guests at Pickering Creek Inn don’t have to spend time perusing the menu, not only because it’s one simple page, but because there’s no need to worry about ordering “the wrong item.” They do everything right, from the kitchen to the bar, offering rare craft beers on tap and a variety of unique vegetarian options; the kind that blow bland pasta and tired salad selections out of the water.
A recent night at The Pick even lended itself to a Ballast Point tap takeover and Ken said they hope to host more similar events in the near future. Be it tap takeovers, sports games, live music or a simple get together with friends, my visits to The Pick will always be accompanied by an item or two from Aaron’s creative menu. When I successfully taste my way through the entire page I’ll start back at square one, unable to get tired of The Pick’s unconventional creations.
Find The Pickering Creek Inn at 37 Bridge Street in Phoenixville, or online at pickeringcreekinn.com.