PORT DEPOSIT — This is not a town of gentle delicacies. To capture the historic river port’s truest self, you have to find a way to navigate both the remarkable scenery of the Susquehanna River and the knowledge of the late 20th-century downtick that left swaths of Main Street in disrepair.
In many ways, Port Deposit is governed by both working-class pragmatism and a high-minded craftsmanship, which is why Granite Run Taproom, where I visited last week, is such a perfect fit.
It opened in March after a fire closed Joe’s Grog House in July 2015. Its owner, 22-year-old John Killian, is the nephew of John T. Killian, who owned the Grog House and passed away last August.
I arrived to the Taproom just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday and chose to sit at a corner table. The lighting, even with the day coming in through the main windows, was dark, but not in a way suggesting uncleanliness. In fact, the inside was impeccable. The post-fire renovations didn’t overhaul the Grog House’s atmosphere, they just updated it. Soft rock of the early Maroon 5 or John Mayer variety played from the speakers overhead, and the place felt like somewhere you’d want to grab a table with friends and just hang out.
Killian, who graduated from Rising Sun High School in 2011, has the food industry in his blood, he told me. Not only did his uncle own the Grog House, but his father was a successful restaurateur in Baltimore (he owned No Way Jose Café in Federal Hill, among others).
“I basically grew up where my babysitters were my dad’s employees,” Killian said of the time he spent in restaurants.
For the Taproom, he wanted to zero-in the focus on craft beer and food. I asked for fish and chips, one of the signature dishes on the menu, and he recommended from the scores of options a sour beer — first, a sampler of Dogfish Head’s new SeaQuench Ale, then a pint of New Belgium’s Citradelic IPA.
We spoke of the restaurant’s logo, which he said was designed by Perryville tattoo artist Becca Tozer, as well as the staff he’s hand-picked to run shop from his experience with the local industry. The fish and chips came while we were still talking, and I was told the kitchen would also bring out a barbecue and meat medley dish.
This has to be said: Whenever something as simple as fish and chips is done extraordinarily well, it calls for extra pause, and the Taproom’s $16 fish and chips basket was excellent. The battered cod fillets were perfectly fried and sat lightly in the stomach (the opposite — sitting heavy — is the ultimate drawback of fish and chips).
The Kansas City-style barbecue medley of chicken, pork, brisket and ribs came next, and with it, four sample cups of the Taproom’s in-house sauces — Kansas City, Carolina, Beer-B-Q and Habanero. The Carolina, being the only mustard-based option, stuck out favorably, but the Beer-B-Q also deserves recognition here. It seemed to mesh with everything it touched. Of the meats, the brisket made the most lasting impression, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
The Taproom then is not your average pub. The stone interior and ruddy atmosphere may seem to suggest it, but the food is quite a step above. While it doesn’t exactly classify as a hidden gem due to the Grog House’s already established footprint (further evidenced by the many positive reviews of the Taproom already online), it’s worth a fresh visit. It has the same heart, the same core, but it is a new restaurant.
I finished my meal on the corn bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream, which must be close to the best a dessert can be. As I ate, the ice cream melted into the warm bread (baked with chocolate chips), and the Fireball caramel drizzled on top rounded everything out. I had next to no room left in my stomach; I ate all of it anyway.
After I finished, I paid my check, thanked my waitress and started the walk back to my car. Along the way I noticed the paint flaking from so many buildings — the river’s humidity has and always will be unforgiving to these structures — and found it to feel, well, right. The Taproom is here now as the latest, greatest strand in Port Deposit’s tapestry, and I’m already plotting my return for another basket and cold beer.