Restaurant Review: Heirloom

Heirloom faces some challenges in the crowded local farm-to-table market.

 

 

 

Heirloom
8705 Germantown Avenue
215-242-2700


 

Two stars.

 

Cuisine: Americana.
Entrées: $17 to $29.

 

“No, we’re not a Chinese restaurant,”

Heirloom’s hostess said into the phone as two couples shedding jackets and scarves squeezed into the tight antechamber of the Chestnut Hill BYO (which my colleague, Victor Fiorillo, previewed in this section last month). “We do smoke our own chicken,” she said after a pause, listened some more, then cradled the receiver and looked up. “Right this way, please!”

How a restaurant must labor to define itself these days! Inside the sienna and stacked-stone walls, at a long butcher-block table overhung with candles and Christmas tree lights and fake grape leaves, a server tried his hand at it.

“We’re a fine American cookery,” he began. “We use local and regional ingredients,” he continued, as though required by law to say so. “But we also reach a little farther when we find something really special.” For example, Hawaiian potatoes, with their “floral” aspect, fetched in from “halfway around the globe.” Or, he might have added, the Maine lobster, Carolina oysters, Alabama crab, and wherever on earth the kitchen had inexplicably sought tomatoes and artichokes and strawberries and grapes. In February.

Longtime chef Al Paris has his own way of explaining what he’s up to here. The old antiquarian envisions Heirloom as a place to explore the “American culinary songbook,” from spoonbread to tuxedo cake, Depression-era pocket buns to Charleston shrimp-and-scallop purloo, and Anson Mills in South Carolina to Benton’s bacon in Tennessee.

It’s a little like JG Domestic, except with the retro dialed up to 11—and a willingness to pander to customers who are sick enough of kale to opt for Florida tomatoes while snow flutters outside.

That’s a little perplexing, because Paris’s kale rocked every time I had it. Stick to ordering comfort food that’s in tune with the season, and you’ll be happy and well fed. That chicken, cold-smoked for hours in a contraption of Paris’s manufacture, tops any barbecue-pit effort within 200 miles, and I liked its side of smoky parsnip hash, too. Aside from a couple of rubbery oysters, his purloo hit the mark—primarily via its use of true Carolina Gold rice. His crabcake was all crab, over a filé-powdered shrimp gumbo sweet and soulful with roasted red peppers. And a rib-sticking supper can have few better ends than Heirloom’s doughnut apple pie.

But some of those tomatoes were mealy. There was eggplant like cardboard, and strawberries in February are beyond pointless. Heirloom may have the potential to earn fans beyond Chestnut Hill, but it’ll need to silence some discordant notes for its mission to resonate.

 

Heirloom
8705 Germantown Avenue
215-242-2700

Two stars.

Cuisine: Americana.
Entrées: $17 to $29.

 

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