Red-Letter Restaurant

All of us have some goofy childhood fear, some inside-out guilty pleasure that makes us feel silly and all tweeny awkward. For me, it’s red rooms. I know, right? This fear is a chewed up piece of Fruit Stripe jangling around my belly. It’s not a leftover from The Shining and Tommy’s red-rum cackle; rather, it’s a throwback to Amityville Horror. Reading about Kathy Lutz finding that freaky blood-smelling, dog-scaring, room under the basement stairs threw teenage me a loop and ever since, scarlet walls give me the heebie-jeebies.

So it was with prickly scalp and tingly hands that I stopped by the Red Brick Tap & Grill. A neighborhood isn’t truly a neighborhood until there’s a joint, that joint where everyone goes for a beer and a bite. Nothin’ extravagant. The Red Brick has been that place for Merion Village residents for a bunch of years, hunkered down at the corner of Gates and Bruck. As more people gentrified the area, it’s only appropriate that the Red Brick got it’s own makeover. George Stefanidis, who knows from neighborhood hangs as the owner of the blocks-away Easy Street Café, took over the spot and spent months reworking the space.

The result is high-ceilinged, with large windows looking out onto the street. Keeping true to its name, the walls are painted scarlet, with accents of black, and a bar that stretches the length of the space. There are booths and tables, sleek with a retro-boomerang design. One wall is papered in comic book covers. Stefanidis, to calm the hyperventilating geek in my party, explained that his cousin back home in Boston sets up comic shows and gave him the books to use, none being collectible, rare, or pass-out worthy.

Stefanidis is a personable host, nodding hello to everyone, stopping by tables, and showing off the Adele-to-ACDC jukebox that doubles as a photo booth. His kindness is almost enough to keep my erthrophobia at bay.

The crowd swings from hipster scarves to football jerseys, some glued to the wall-spanning screens while others are in awe of the beer selection, 30 on tap and 70 in the bottle. It takes awhile to get through the menu, there are section for appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, calzones, pizza, hot dogs, burgers – it would take multiple visits to experience the depth of this food bench.

The Spinach salad (10.99) isn’t the rabbit food found elsewhere – this bowl of greens is truly a meal, with smoky morsels of pork belly bumping up against the smooth sweetness of honey goat cheese. Candied pecans and strawberries play against the herbaceous leaves, while the lemon mustard vinaigrette adds the right amount of zip. Sandwiches and burgers have names to match their flavor personalities – the Stevie Ray Vaughan ($9.99) is a fresh-ground patty with beef brisket, cheddar, and bluesy BBQ sauce. Fried jalapenos crown the production. The Al Pacino (7.99) is a hit list of Italian meats – grilled ham, pepperoni, and salami with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pepperoncini, Italian dressing, and provolone all tucked into a crispy soft baguette. Other items are named after John Belushi (fried bologna), Frankenstein (a bacon-wrapped brat), and Ricky Ricardo (smoked pork butt and ham). On the dog end of things, The Escobar ($5) was an addicting adventure, twin chorizo links topped with smoked pork and those little fried jalapeno discs served in a warm and squishy bun. Spicy and smoky and those jalapenos are like Wheat Thins, I just wanted to eat them, one after the other.

There is pizza, thin-crusted and foldable, by the slice and by the pie. The crust has lovely burnt bits on the bottom that add a blast of char to every other bite. Classic cheese to make-it-yourself concoctions.

The Red Brick is a corner spot with something for everyone. The place is fun, laid-back, with a smiling host in Stefanidis. It’s enough for me to brave the red walls to enjoy the non-fussy atmosphere and fun food. After all, isn’t that one way to get rid of a fear? Face it over and over again.

The Red Brick Tap & Grill is located at 292 E Gates St. Check out their facebook page for news and updates.