This new addition to Ardmore offers fare to match the small-batch brews made famous by its sister restaurant, Tired Hands Brew Café
by Brian Freedman

“Look at that,” my wife said wistfully, her eyes nearly welling over with tears of joy. “Look at this crowd: college kids on dates; middle-aged couples out for dinner; young parents with kids; and … and … tattoos! This is wonderful!”

For a moment there, I was fairly certain she was going to burst into sobs of happiness.

Indeed it was wonderful, and blessedly so. The old party line about the Main Line’s constituent suburbs—that they were bastions of upper-class privilege, a collection of towns in which “middle income” meant you only had one German car parked in your driveway—hasn’t been true for a long time. It’s one of the reasons we recently purchased a home in Ardmore—great schools, a decent amount of space for the money, and an increasingly eclectic population, driven, in large part, by the exodus of young families from the city proper. Heck, we were one of them, cashing in 12 years of city living in order to not have to fight the Philly public school system.

But the crowd that Fermentaria and its sibling, the nearby Tired Hands Brew Café, have been attracting seems to distill all that so much of the Main Line has become in recent years: ever more diverse, egalitarian … and exciting.

The space itself—a nearly century-old former repair shop for trollies—gives ample evidence of that, with its long bar arcing along the open kitchen, the airplane-hangar sized dining room watched over by tanks and vats and other looming brewery equipment in the back. And it’s always buzzing with energy.

Great beer will do that. And this, indeed, is a remarkable selection of suds, an ever-evolving list that runs the gamut from the cereal-y Trendler Pilsner to the Shambolic with its hazy appearance and distinct notes of cantaloupe and spice. Then there’s the epic Only Void, a thick, dense and deliciously transporting offering aged on coffee and cherries that will both settle your stomach and keep you awake for weeks if you drink enough of it.

Which is likely to happen, because so much of the beer here is so unique, so exciting, that you’ll probably want to work your way through all of the options on offer. It’s best, then, to line your stomach with the well-considered food coming out of chef Bill Braun’s kitchen.

Unlike the original Tired Hands Brew Café, with its excellent breads, sandwiches and pickles, Fermentaria offers a more fully realized menu—though, of course, the Brew Café is certainly worth frequenting as often as Fermentaria, with its expanded offerings, most notable of which are the tacos. The carnitas in particular stand out, the braised pork beautifully seasoned and perfumed with cumin, oregano, orange and more. The accompanying pickled red onions slice through each bite with an excellent, acidic zip.

Shishito peppers, each one blackened and puckered and vibrantly expressive, are served draped around a generous mound of buttery, decadent grits. There are other vegetarian options, too, including a curried cauliflower taco and a maitake-and-braised-eggplant one, proving that there’s no reason that only carnivores should have all the fun at a beer-centric spot.

Nonvegetarians should partake in the opportunity to revel in the burger, which, aside from the ground chuck itself, benefits from two of the more famous dishes to have come over from the Brew Café: whiskey pickles and candied bacon, the latter of which is a thick, sweet and earthy—in a word, wonderful—slice. With the bun’s slathering of housemade HopHands mustard, it’s ideal alongside the excellent brew of the same name.

Likewise, the fried chicken has proven to be a big draw here, and it’s no wonder. Following a 24-hour brine and a three- to four-hour buttermilk soak, this is a moist, deliriously flavorful bird, expertly coated in a deep-fried crust. (Note: On an earlier visit, the chicken was held back by a crust that hadn’t been crisped up all the way through on some of the pieces. This issue has been remedied.) With the snappy, spicy slaw and addictive buttermilk biscuits, Fermentaria’s chicken is a fried treat worth the travel.

Both times I visited, I practically had to roll out the front door. And while I didn’t really need to order the citrus-chili-glazed doughnut with Awake Minds chocolate sauce this past visit, I’m glad I did: Crunchy outside and soft on its interior, neither too sweet nor too savory, it was a perfect, cake-y coda to the meal. And the fact that it’s all enjoyed in an atmosphere that is so distinctly indicative of the new Main Line makes it that much better. Fermentaria is proof that we made the right decision in moving here. I’ll raise a glass of great Tired Hands beer to that.

35 Cricket Terrace

Photograph by Jody Robinson