Righteous Tap House is a Destination worth the Drive
The winding back roads of West Chester were all mine on a recent rainy Monday and made for an adventurous and picturesque drive towards my craft beer and food destination. I’m a beer enthusiast, a proponent for breweries both close to home and far away. Downtown West Chester has definitely packed in many options for craft beer, but consider taking a ten-minute drive (or better yet, an Uber/Lyft, we’re talking alcohol here) to Righteous Tap House for a great meal accompanied by a rare global or local brewery find.
From town, the road to Righteous is a scenic one, passing the Brandywine creek, the 250-year-old Marshallton village, and the Highland Orchards. When I arrived, co-owners Michael Slachta and Jon Masishin, along with the head chef David Wassel, welcomed me.
The first thing I said to them was, “This place is so cute!” Cringe. Probably not the vibe they were going for when the owners created Righteous three years ago. More like “rebellious, but okay for families” or “a modern tavern for the weary traveler, but also a good community gathering space.” It’s like one of those old roadhouses that sits right off a main thoroughfare. The sprawling bar takes up an entire half of the long room, with its low wood ceilings and a few warm yellow lights. From the entrance, there are booths to the left and tables to the far right, by a side door that leads out to the patio.
Thankfully, Michael and Jon took my “cute” word choice as a compliment. They’re just welcoming guys like that.
The highlight of the Righteous interior design is the wall by the side door. On it, there is…let’s call it “an interpretation”…of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam painting. You know the one, in which God is reaching out his hand to Adam to pass on the “touch of life.” At Righteous, God is passing Adam a beer.
These kinds of witty nods to divinity pepper the restaurant. There are framed photos of monks pouring beer; a stained glass window at a booth replicates a confessional door. Michael told me a bit about the history of beer and how that inspired the place’s ambience. Long ago, beer was brewed by Cistercian monks to “help them manage long fasts,” so Michael and Jon took that image and decided on the name Righteous. “A heavenly selection… devilishly good” became their motto.
They asked me when I arrived if I wanted anything to drink, and frankly, I didn’t want to seem too eager. How could I not, though, with so many options of brews on tap and in bottles behind the bar? “She’s ready for a beer! It’s on her face!” said Michael. Jon saw my confusion at all of the choices and set down a taste of the brilliant Belgian Delirium Tremens Pale Ale, their house beer.
Jon’s a real connoisseur and works on finding good beers from across the world. But he also pays close attention to community breweries like Stolen Sun from Pottstown, Levante from West Chester, and Root Down from Phoenixville. Of their selection of 25 rotating beers on tap, they currently have an intriguing Mango Habanero Pale Ale for anyone who’s missing summer, and some great seasonal porters and stouts for heavier, winter-friendly options. There’s also a plethora of options in bottles and cans, because Jon is always finding something new to add to their “99 Bottles of Beers” menu.
You don’t just go to Righteous for the beer, though; you also go for a proper meal. Head chef David Wassel is a chef-turned-businessman-turned chef again who knows his way around the restaurant’s 100% scratch kitchen. Everything, from the fries to the pasta, is made from scratch at Righteous, and they source their cheeses, bread, mushrooms and proteins locally.
The team launched a new menu in December, as they do a few times a year depending on the seasonality of their ingredients. Jon and David have a sort of experimental approach to their menu revamps, bouncing ideas off each other on what’s going to work in the kitchen. “You have to try the new thyme and honey butter,” David says to Jon, and then rolls off a list of meats that would pair with it.
The plates are all comfort-size portions, and the same global influence of their beer selection applies to their food. They not only offer a tastes-like-home chicken, but flavors like the Tempura Battered Fish Tacos (2 for $11) and the Fried Shishito Pepper appetizer ($11).
A few plates have remained favorites over the years. Here’s a sample meal that David threw down. Get the signature Inquisition Burger ($14), a LaFreida beef patty, bacon jam, sharp cheddar, and a fried egg on top. Have that with a side of Resurrection Fries ($7.5), with gravy, cheese, and scallions. Of course, ask your server which beer (probably a Pale Ale or something light, says David) would go well with this.
But wait. Next to your plate, keep a bottle of the funky G.Love Hot Sauce, created by the Philadelphia alternative/blues band G.Love and Special Sauce. The owners are proud that Philadelphia is their city. Righteous draws their design inspiration not only from history but also from Philly’s iconic Monk’s Cafe. The hot sauce choice and their take on the Italian Roast Pork Sandwich, topped with some of that thyme and honey butter, are among their homages to the City of Brotherly Love.
If this all seems like too much for you, just stick to their Confession Chicken ($16.5), accompanied by asparagus, mashed potatoes, and sausage gravy. Or perhaps the one-plate yet intricate Crab Pasta ($22), with black pepper fettuccine, asparagus, tomatoes, basil-tarragon cream sauce, and parmesan.
For vegetarians, they’ve got an excellent black bean Veggie Burger ($13), a House Mac n Cheese ($10.5), two veggie flatbreads ($13/$14), and they do a wonderful vegetarian Black Peppercorn Fettuccine ($ varies) as well. For vegans, a few of these options can be made without dairy, and Righteous has salad options, too. And if you’re gluten-free, get that Veggie Burger, which has a corn tortilla bun.
In 2020, Jon and Michael aim to relaunch their popular buttermilk chicken and waffles Sunday brunches. They will also intend to introduce private beer dinners this winter, which will have six to seven courses paired with a rare foreign beer.
Many options for beer, many options for food, but Righteous also has its own culture. Since it opened, its excellent acoustics and regular crowds have made it a major live music hub in the area. Find bands like Afrobear, The Whiskeyhickon Boys, and the Tommy Froelich Trio playing a set on Wednesday evenings.
“We want a real community-oriented feel to this place,” says Jon, “These bands have dinner here with their families and then play a set. It’s great, and it draws in a regular crowd.” A diverse group of local bands are invited to play on Sundays after football season ends at the Blues and Brews events, organized by the Tommy Froelich Trio.
The Righteous team tries to focus not only on bringing in the community, but on giving back to it. Look for Dine and Donate events on their Facebook and Instagram feeds, during which a percentage of an evening’s revenue is donated to local elementary schools and nonprofits, such as the SPCA.
I left Righteous with two new pours to obsess over: the Delirium and Lawson’s Fayston Maple Imperial Porter— be careful with the latter at a sneaky but deadly 10% ABV. But above all, I left with the notion that I could come back here in a couple of years and be welcomed like I never left. It’s evident that the group at Righteous works hard to make everyone who stops by “feel like regulars, even if they’re travelers.” Jon and Michael hope that the comfort-sized portions, rare beers, and live music make a visit to Righteous feel like a “destination experience,” even if home is just a few minutes away.