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For 22 years, Derek Davis has run his eponymous restaurant at 4411 Main Street which exemplifies the appeal of the Manayunk dining experience.
Once one of five Manayunk restaurants in Davis' culinary mini-empire, Derek's is now his only endeavor. Yet he says he is working harder than he ever at cooking, planning and running the business.
He has also clearly worked very hard at insuring that his restaurant hasn’t gathered any moss over the years. For instance, he was organic and local before that was the thing to do, changing the menu daily depending on what was in season and available. He has added vegetarian and vegan options to the menu, changing things to keep up with consumer needs and evolving trends. He even went smoke-free several years before it became a city-wide law.
His restaurant’s consistent success and popularity has given Davis the freedom to create a menu made up of his personal favorite dishes. His philosophy - if you are going to do something, do it right. The signature burger lives up to this tenet — he really nails it.
A 1/2 lb beef patty, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled to the perfect char on the outside, then topped with cheddar cheese, crispy fried onions, roasted tomatoes and a truffle mayo. The roasted tomatoes, in particular, added the elusive umami taste, bringing the dish together perfectly and causing me to eat far more than I intended. This is a burger worth saving the calories for! That and the potato skins served on the side. Seasoned with Parmesan and white truffle, these are not your average potato skins.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you've read previous reviews of mine you know that I love to start my meals with Tuna Tartare, and Derek’s version of this appetizer does not disappoint. If I had known that a tartare of this caliber was available right in my back yard I would have been down here sooner to try it. Perfectly balanced with fresh tuna on top of a stack of creamy avocado, the sriracha mayo drizzled along the plate sealed the deal for me, and made this dish really stand out.
Derek also served us an extra appetizer of braised short rib agnolotti in a porcini mushroom sauce that was the perfect balance of rich, and yet somehow delicate. While this little gem is not on the menu every day, Derek varies certain specials daily. So you should make a point to ask what sorts of goodies the kitchen might be whipping up when you’re there.
For his entree, my husband went with the braised pork shoulder with sweet corn-basil grits, crispy hominy & pinot noir sauce. This dish was previously selected by Philadelphia Magazine as its entree of the year, and it certainly lived up to its billing.
Although we were both beyond stuffed after our entrees, we simply couldn’t resist trying the house-made Oreo cheesecake. (Since Oreos have now been shown to be as addictive as certain street drugs, we really shouldn’t be held responsible for our inability to just say no…). It was the perfect end to an excellent meal and a wonderful experience.
It turns out that every week is restaurant week at Derek's: order one small plate, one entree and dessert for just $34. Sunday to Thursday you can BYO wine with no corking fee, and Derek offers an impressive selection of specialty cocktails and wines as well. Nightly specials and a comfy bar make this a place I would like to have on my weekly rotation for date night! In fact, our next visit will be on a Monday night when we can take advantage the $6 burger special.
Finally, any review of Derek’s wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t take a moment to mention what a genuinely nice guy Derek Davis is. For someone who’s achieved a lot of success over the years in the Philadelphia dining scene, it certainly hasn’t gone to his head. He was gracious enough to pull up a chair to our table, answer a lot of questions and just chat for awhile about life in general.
In my opinion, Manayunk is really getting back into its groove. There are a ton of great restaurants to suit every palate – most with outdoor dining during the warm weather months - boutique shopping, coffee shops, bars and dessert shops. Even if you aren't local, it is well worth the trip from center city or the burbs for a destination evening: come early, get some shopping done, grab a drink outside, have some dinner, take a stroll to walk that off and then grab some ice cream or a cupcake. You really can't go wrong, especially at Derek's.