Food Critic Craig LaBan reviews American Sardine Bar chef, Doreen DeMarco

June 1, 2017 |

Photo by Tom Gralish

“The ever-changing blackboard menu is full of hand-crafted (and sometimes surprisingly adventurous) flavors that almost always satisfy, from daily soups (Moroccan chicken was a favorite) to big sardines cooked three ways (get them grilled) and to what are still the city’s best onion rings. DeMarco’s spicy chili chicken wings also get my vote for Top 5 in Philly, the tender meat juicy from a star anise brine and its crackly crust shined with a sweet and spicy glaze infused with Sichuan peppercorns, sesame oil, and honey. A braised Korean short-rib sandwich amped with gochujang marinade stands in for any beefy cravings. But it is the nonmeat options where DeMarco’s creativity really shines. Her Asian salmon burger, laced with sesame, soy, and Thai chili mayo, is a satisfying burger alternative. But so was her vegan “cauli-burger” — a variation served on her gluten-free pizza crust — made from mashed cauliflower and tofu glazed in a vegan balsamic mayo emulsified with aquafaba — chickpea water. And then there was the Burmese green tea salad, a colorful pinwheel of crunchies arrayed over greens — yellow lentils, sunflower seeds, sesame, peanuts, and jalapeño rings — that was mixed with tender threads of fermented tea leaves and a squeeze of lemon into one of the most refreshingly snappy salads of the spring.

To wash it down, ASB always has a great beer list of cans and drafts, featuring sometimes-hard-to-find local stars, like Saint Benjamin, Tired Hands, Sterling Pig, and a particularly great wild ale fermented with fruit, Mr. Blueberry, from Highway Manor in Camp Hill, Pa. If ever there was a perfect brew to sip from a lawn chair in South Philly’s beer garden ode to seriously silly food, Mr. Blueberry is it.” – Craig LaBan, New faces give fresh life to Philly’s veteran gastropubs