“Brunch is punishment,” Anthony Bourdain famously wrote. “Nothing makes an aspiring Escoffier feel more like an army commissary cook, or Mel from Mel’s Diner, than having to slop out eggs over easy with bacon and eggs Benedict for the Sunday brunch crowd.”
That’s never how Marshall Green made it feel at Café Estelle, which must have been responsible for 85 percent of the weekend traffic on North 4th Street for the five years he slung the best shirred eggs in town, among other favorites, at that widely adored spot. But there’s nothing like 1,500 early mornings to drive a man to drink—or at least to a place fitted out with a well-stocked bar.
Jerry’s Bar, where Green landed last May, has two of them. A long slab of marble salvaged from Independence Mall is the center of gravity downstairs, and a dark wooden barroom evokes an unbuttoned Ivy League clubroom on the mezzanine.
My only complaint about this handsome pair is that there’s not a third. From a suave, not-too-sweet whiskey sour to a taut lime daiquiri that shows what Hemingway was getting on about, the $8 and $9 cocktails are a respite from the escalating prices and pretense of the artisanal drinking scene. Thirty beer choices cover nearly as many styles—not just hop-walloping ones. Tack on 15 wines by the glass, with particular strength in the rosé and sparkling departments, and you’d have to be a Mormon on Coumadin not to find liquid happiness here.
Green’s cooking rounds out the solid, if standard, charms of this neighborhood gastropub, which are bolstered by an interior that could be an ad for owner William Proud’s architectural restoration business. (Check out the bas-relief impalas he retrieved from an old facade near Rittenhouse.)
“I really like making … entrées,” Green chuckled six months into his new life at the dinner hour. His repertoire is more broad than breathtaking. There’s a great burger: short rib, brisket and chuck under grated cheddar, which melds better than the usual thick blanket. A veal-stock-based French onion soup hits the savory-sweet balance right. Skip the ho-hum pickle-brined wings and the bland chicken-and-bowties; get some hickory-smoked trout salad instead, and the soothing meatballs on pecorino toasts. Nothing’s going to bowl you over. But neither will the prices, so kick back with a peach lambic or a cabernet franc rosé.
And come back on Sunday morning. My favorite dish at Jerry’s was a special that paired cured smoked scallops with springy polenta—an enthralling alternative to the now-ubiquitous shrimp and grits.
Who says brunch has to be a punishment?