Spotlight On… Jasper’s Backyard!
There has never been anything typical about Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Just look at that name. That’s a combination of letters that shouldn’t exist anywhere in the world. Yet, when you realize that a river called the Schuylkill runs directly through town, maybe you give ol’ Conshy a pass on its name.
There’s nothing typical about Jasper’s Backyard, either. Located a block off the main drag at 101 E 7th Ave. in Conshohocken makes it easy to miss, but the ambiance, the food, and the fact that they’re one of the few spots in the Philly area to carry Cape May IPA as a permanent tap offering lets you know that you’ve stumbled upon something special.
For the past twenty-five years, Conshohocken has been a town in flux. It had long been a working-class town just outside of Philadelphia but has been straddling the line between “working class” and “trendy” for a quarter-century. In that time, scores of condo units have been built by the river, and Conshy’s downtown — a line of insurance offices and cash-for-gold spots twenty-five years ago — is now bustling with small restaurants and trendy boutiques.
Yet, for something completely different, when you walk into Jasper’s, you might think that Disney’s animators stopped by here before designing Gaston’s tavern in Beauty and the Beast. A 150-year-old renovated home, its high ceilings, exposed wood and stone, and glorious wood fireplaces make the word “rustic” feel inadequate.
The general manager Connor Dent shows us to a corner table and owner Kelly Sloane joins us. She greets us with, “People love your beer. I love your beer,” which is exactly what you want to hear at the start of an interview.
Jasper’s Backyard is named for one Jasper Farmer — Billy Penn’s neighbor in England.
“When Penn was establishing everything here,” Kelly explains, “he sold Jasper Farmer 5,000 acres. Part of the 5,000 acres is Conshohocken. It was Fort Washington and a big chunk of this area. The family established in Fort Washington, opening one of the first limestone quarries in the area.”
And, 336 years later, Kelly and husband Mike opened Jasper’s Backyard at the site of a Conshohocken dive bar staple, Casmar Cafe, that had been around for about 40 years. (So, no. Disney animators probably didn’t stop by in the early 90s.)
The interior is a bit of a split-level, with the large dining room and fireplace downstairs and a dining area upstairs with a bar boasting Cape May IPA year-round, great for happy hours or larger parties. Off the upstairs level is a small, private dining room with Smart TV, perfect for smaller business luncheons of about sixteen people.
“We have a lot of business in the area and we do a lot of happy hours, a lot of gatherings at the bar with local businesses,” Kelly says. “We’ve done it all: birthday parties, bridal showers, baby showers — a ton of that stuff up there. We’ve done a wedding, we’ve done corporate picnics in the backyard, all kinds of happy hours, birthday parties. We’ve done it all.”
Downstairs, the bar is separated from the dining room by “Penny Lane,” a short hallway floored with a mosaic of pennies. Even at the late lunch hour of 2pm, there were still a number of patrons seated at tables, many of them were clad in suits and necktieless open shirts — Jasper’s is a favorite for business lunches, and it’s easy to see why.
“I think we’ve got great food,” Kelly says, “and we have a great, unified staff. We work hard in this environment — we feel that the restaurant business is hard enough — to do whatever we can to keep our staff happy and wanting to come to work, so we keep it a fun place to work. We keep the lines of communication open: we ask people to talk to us when things are going wrong.”
It shows. The staff at Jasper’s was engaging and talkative — it’s easy to see that they love their jobs. In all honesty, that’s what comes from having an owner who truly cares about her business. Talking to Kelly, it’s easy to see that she loves Jasper’s. Coupled with a personality that makes her a natural restaurateur — inquisitive and truly interested in whatever the person she’s speaking with has to say — it’s not difficult to see why Jasper’s has a great year-round business.
“It’s an awesome winter restaurant and an awesome good-weather restaurant,” Kelly says.
Jasper’s is definitely laid-back during the colder months, but, as the weather warms, it becomes more of a party atmosphere, with the crowd ranging from 20-somethings up to folks in their senior years.
“We kind of appeal to most demographics,” Kelly says.
“I think our bar scene really attracts the young couple that just moved out to Conshy, just bought a house,” Connor says, “and we also have the Main Liners who can come in and sit in front of a fireplace and have a good meal.”
Jasper’s has a total of three bars — two inside and one outside — and Cape May IPA is on year-round at both inside bars. Those bars each have eight taps carrying the same eight beers, rotating through six of them, while keeping Cape May IPA and the hometown Conshohocken Brewery as staples.
“We were only going to keep Conshy on there,” Kelly says, “but Cape May is such a damn good beer, and so many people want to drink it. It sells. People love it. People want it. It’s an it beer right now for an IPA. People know exactly what they’re gonna get.”
Jasper’s is known to rotate in some of our other brews, as well, including several of our seasonals.
“I happen to love Coastal Evacuation,” Kelly says. “We’ve had it in cans, too.”
“We’ve had Mop Water, as well,” Connor says. “It worked for us, even though the name isn’t the most appealing.”
Kelly and Mike have a house nine miles up the Parkway from the brewery in Avalon and are frequent visitors to the brewery.
“When we go to the brewery in the summer, I always bring friends when they’re in from out-of-town,” Kelly says. “I always do the flights, but my one friend has twins and is more of a wine drinker. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to come down, but she brought the kids and the kids had a great time. And she tried The Bog, so she found something she loved to drink.”
“The brewery’s an awesome spot to go over the summer,” Connor agrees.
The summer is great for Jasper’s, too, with a welcoming, sunny patio. Almost exactly a year ago, in February of 2018, we’d taken a ride-along with our Philly rep, Erin Gale, on an unseasonably warm day. The high hit 78° that day, and we had the chance to sit outside on their awesome patio. (This time around, the temperature maxed out at 37°, so our table was blessedly near the fireplace.)
Beyond the patio lay the “Barage” — bar and garage — a detached garage renovated into a modern-day speakeasy, complete with a little window in the door facing the street, perfect for whispering the password. (We know the password. We could tell you, but then we’d have to kill you. Thankfully, they’ll let you in without it.)
“There’s a bar, there’s a fireplace, and it’s heated,” Kelly explains, “so it can be its own area. When we do live music, we usually put the musician out in the Barage, but it gets piped in throughout the whole place.”
On the weekends, Jasper’s will host a solo or duo acoustic act out in the Barage. There’s not much space at Jasper’s for a full band, but, being set off the main drag, it’s not necessarily the best idea to have bands rockin’ till the wee hours, anyway.
“I call the Barage the ‘time capsule’,” Connor jokes, “because you can be out there for hours and not realize that any time has passed.”
The Barage isn’t on the same tap system as the main building — it’s a bit smaller and uses sixtels as opposed to the half-kegs in the main building.
“The sixtels go by quicker,” Connor says, “so we have a little more time to experiment in the Barage, see what works. If it works out in the Barage, we’ll bring it in here.”
Several steps from the patio off the main building lay a second patio, currently occupied by four “yurts.”
“This is the second year we’ve done the yurts for the winter garden,” Kelly explains.
“Yurts?” we ask.
“A yurt is a Mongolian tent,” she says. “It’s a round tent, and even when it’s raining, you don’t get wet.”
“What’s crazy is that there’s not a single screw in them,” Connor says.
“Yeah, they’re all tied together,” Kelly says.
“They’re beautiful at night,” Connor says. “They never really get dark, and you can look up at the stars.”
Throughout the interview, food just kept coming: piles of fries, heaps of crabmeat, and a burger so tall it made us wonder how anyone could eat it. We didn’t touch the food as we waited for the beer to arrive for pictures.
“I was going to say, ‘why aren’t you eating?!?’” Kelly exclaimed.
Connor tipped us off on the Conshy Crabby Fries: Monterey cheese, cajun sauce, and actual jumbo lump crab meat. We’re not sure why those other places call their plates “crab fries” when they don’t have crab. It seems a little bit like false advertising. Not at Jasper’s, however. Nestled in between perfectly-fried lengths of potato were succulent chunks of jumbo lump crabmeat.
And, you know, the icon for our Cape May IPA is a crab for good reason. Paired with these crab fries, our flagship IPA brings out the sweetness of the crab.
When the Crab, Avocado, and Mango tower hit the table, there were oohs and ahhs all around.
“Oh, that’s beautiful,” said Marketing Assistant Kristen Taylor, who took the pictures that day.
The avocado was perfectly ripe: not a bit of crunch but still firm enough that it wasn’t a gooey mess. The sweetness of the mango played beautifully with the crabmeat and the avocado and brought out the slight fruitiness inherent in Cape May IPA.
The Char-Grilled Burger — a huge concoction of ground beef, choice of cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion perched precariously on a potato roll –, once assembled, is so tall that even this writer — who, it is universally agreed, has a big mouth — had a rough time getting it in there. Cooked to medium-rare perfection, the bacon was crisp and all of the vegetables were fresh and delicious — even the tomato: no mean feat in the middle of February. And you can’t beat a cold Cape May IPA to wash it all down.
“Our Short Rib is out-of-this-world,” she says. “It’s one of our specialties. It’s people’s faves. It keeps going from menu to menu; we’ve never taken it off. We’ve tweaked it a little bit; whereas, everything else has rotated off.
“His filet is fantastic, as well. And the Snapper. I gotta throw the snapper in there, too. The Spanish Octopus Salad’s another really good one.”
Closed Mondays, the kitchen is open until 9:30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10:30 on Thursdays with live music and the weekends, and 8pm on Sundays. They host Wine Wednesdays with discounted, $25 bottles of selected wines, as well as a monthly wine dinner.
“I think our next one is going to try to be a beer tasting,” Kelly says.
Sounds right up our alley!
In all, Jasper’s is one of those places that you might miss on your first trip to Conshohocken, but, once you get there, the food, the atmosphere, and — most importantly — the people will bring you back.
For more information about Jasper’s Backyard, see their website at jaspersbackyard.com or call (610) 897-8212.