Sitting along the north side of East Gay Street, Doc Magrogan’s isn’t just a house of oysters, booze, and food; it’s more like a home to me. I sharpened my teeth over bourbon poured at their bar; it was the first place I learned the value of dining alone, and how awkward but relaxing it could feel. It’s where my first oyster was shucked and my last shooter (vodka, oyster, cocktail sauce, shot glass . . . *shudder*) was downed. Both of which never remotely appealed to me until I found myself, for a one year period of time three years back, residing in a 900 square foot closet apartment directly above the restaurant. It was then that Doc’s became my watering hole, my retreat, and my friend. From regretful mornings after, to memorable moments with guests that came to stay with me, my year above Doc’s was the perfect little cosmos of time I’ll never forget, and no one else will ever quite understand. But, there was one lingering downfall that plagues my Magrogan’s memory from years past, the food . . . was a shame.
As the years moseyed on, I moved from one end of Gay St. to the other, and my frequency at Doc’s began to dwindle. But the soft spot in my heart for the place was always there, and when I started to recently frequent its barstools again — a noticeable shift in culture, menu, and quality had taken shape. Doc’s had finally figured out how to ride the balance of catering to two dynamic crowds: the dinner patrons and the “shake your ass” bar crowd. It has matured into a well crafted pocket knife of a restaurant. Clientele of young professionals, families, first college dates, and drinkers now meld over revitalized elements like Doc’s back porch (a kitschy, vibrant space, dubbed the “Shore Shack”), a competitive craft beer selection, and stuff-your-face specials like Wednesday’s $24.99 all you can stomach snow crab legs. But among the most noteworthy of changes, came from the kitchen onto our plates. When Head Chef, Erin Finegan, arrived a few months back, he put his finger on a button labeled “Reset”, and began anew.
“My first week on the job, I rejected two shipments of seafood, and put the supplier on a temporary time out, until they knew I was serious about what kind of quality I expected them to bring me,” states Chef Erin. It was that first bold move that set a strong precedence for excellence in everything from quality, efficiency, sustainability, and customer experience. He didn’t just want to match customer expectations, but exceed them so greatly that word of mouth alone could pack the house nightly. Chef Erin proudly entered the Dave Magrogan Group (DMG) a few years back working at Kildare’s in Newark, DE and quickly moved through the ranks with a solid reputation.
Tall, robust, and scribbled with tattoos, he’s got a facade like some pro-wrestler from my childhood, but his interior is furnished with an ornate combination of wit, intelligence, and passion. We sipped on Goose Island IPA, one of the many new craft beers Doc’s now carries, and discussed what makes him tick. It’s clear his head and heart are invested with DMG and all they are doing. Not only does he feel like he’s part of an entity that’s on the rise, but he feels that he’s an important cog in the gears of progression. He has a work ethic that has him inspecting deliveries even on his days off, unwavering appreciation and respect for the staff around him, and the ability to churn out food with consistent quality and creativity. Chef Erin is the apex of an employee you’d want on your side.
I’m not even gonna stress the fresh aspect. In a competitive culinary town like West Chester, if you can’t keep up with that, then you have no business making meals. Instead, what’s intriguing is Chef Erin’s obsession with seasonal and sustainable. Following trends in the marketplace, along with nabbing items like oysters and Sockeye Salmon at peek availability, you’re always able to find a unique top notch meal, at the best price. Toss in his “beer snob” self-declaration, and you’ll always have an unparalleled pint to even things out.
I will always cherish those action packed days and endless nights I spent living above Doc’s – I was young, naive, and wide-eyed. But putting that year into perspective, I can’t help but be kinda glad it’s over; I’ve made strides in perfecting and embracing who I am. And that’s exactly the same transition Doc’s has made, and with Chef Erin Finegan at the helm it’s experienced substantial maturing; the restaurant now comfortably fits the shoes it so desperately tried to wear before.