Restaurant Review: Society Hill Society

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Society Hill Society | Photo by Courtney Apple

In the annals of faint praise, neighborhood restaurant is a peculiar epithet. People usually apply it to the places that make them feel most welcome. Yet it’s a dismissive classification—not just because it implies that a place merits only limited attention, but because it suggests that one neighborhood restaurant is more or less interchangeable with any other. Warm hospitality, a menu that’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, consistent cooking, and bang—your Brewerytown pals are all, “Why can’t somebody open a place like this by us?”

Nobody would ask that about Society Hill Society, because Reed Barrow has remade the old Artful Dodger into a public house that looks like pints have been sliding across its hammered copper bar since the first bricks were laid on Headhouse Square (and only lately, eclectic cocktails). Locally crafted spindle chairs and coarse-grained chestnut soak up the warm light of yellow globe fixtures on patched plaster ceilings. The upper bar shelves hold objects so random, it seems they must have taken decades to accrue. Is that a femur wedged in next to the ship captain’s hat?

Chef Yun Fuentes tunes his cooking to the surroundings, tapping Pennsylvania’s culinary heritage to turn out a middling chicken and waffles that evokes potpie, better croquettes that do the same, and (winning this particular round) bourbon-apple-butter-stuffed doughnuts that stand to be the champion dessert of autumn. A nifty spread of bar snacks includes deviled egg yolks set in whites stained crimson with beet pickling liquid, and toasts heaped with pickled white asparagus spears pressed into a creamy homemade “egg cheese” that’s one of Fuentes’s best old-cookbook finds.

My favorite entrée in the PA Dutch mode was a schnitz un knepp variation centered on pork belly brined in a citrus-and-clove-spiked apple cider whose bright flavor—and radish-and-apple salad accompaniment—was pitch-perfect for a late summer that felt like fall.

But for Fuentes, heritage can also mean paying tribute to our Polish and Ukrainian communities via pierogi and deeply caramelized onion jam—or cooking in the modern mode that will be our own legacy. Which brings us to my favorite summer meal. Fuentes used a Betty Groff chilled peach bisque recipe as license to gussy up his girlfriend’s peach gazpacho with goat-cheese marbles (made with sodium alginate). Then he covered an olive-oil-poached fluke fillet with zucchini “scales” and set it on an island of sweet corn surrounded by corn nage.

If Society Hill Society lasts as long as it fools you into thinking it already has, it’ll be in no small part because of dishes like those.

Two and a half stars – Good to Excellent

Society Hill Society [Foobooz]

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  • Mitchell P. Masterson III

    Good food, but the bar is absolutely terrible. No beer on draft, and they push goofy, sugary cocktails like punch and daiquiris. Possibly a decent restaurant, but it is not a “public house.” Stay away if you’re looking for a place to have a drink. Won’t even comment on how atrocious the name is.

  • Tweed Farrow

    @Mitchell P. Masterson III, You are an ingrate. Society Hill Society (“SHS” for short) is a living work of art, not to mention a highly clever play on words, whereby the first word of the neighborhood in which it is located is repeated after the second word, resulting in a memorable and catchy phrase that rolls off the tongue like a fine bit of poetry. If you want beer, you can go to Paddy Whacks. This establishment is strictly for the classy crowd that would never deign to have a beer and doesn’t care to watch sporting contests via telecast the way that a rapscallion like yourself is wont to do. If you cannot appreciate a hearty supper of trout roe and shoo-fly pie, then clearly you would be happier eating deep-fried chicken parts at Downey’s. Good day to you sir; I said good day!

  • Jimmy Billfish

    Hipster clubhouse with no beer and $5 hard-boiled eggs? Pass.

  • Linda Shipley

    I feel so bad for these guys. They are obviously trying hard and take a lot of pride in what they are doing. The food is good and the menu is evolving. The interior looks fantastic. The problem is that they have completely neglected the bar business and/or miscalculated how excited people would be about the no-beer, cocktails-only angle. To have your business blow off all beer drinkers in a city that’s known for its beer is an odd choice of first impressions to make. I doubt they can recover from the loss of good will in the neighborhood (as far as people looking for it to be a place to drink), so they basically will have to survive as a restaurant only, which can be a challenge in a competitive market like this. And yes, the name is one of the worst I’ve ever heard, for anything.

  • pine street guy

    why the haters? cool place and nice addition to the area. Certainly not a beer and sports place but we have enough of that already. As for the name, i get its kind of a snarky poke at society hill, maybe a little too clever for some.
    Also they seem very busy, it generally takes a about a year to work the kinks out. Just wish they would open for lunch those perigees are fantastic!!

    • Marigold Sterling

      Ha hah, “too clever.” I guess only a genius like yourself (who writes like a 6-year-old) can “get” something that’s so “clever.”

      • Barman

        Marigold, your fat butt needs to be spanked, you should order the salad.
        look at the reviews very positive

        • guest

          You’re missing the point. No one disagrees that the food has gotten good reviews. But if the food is going to be the entire focus, you might as well just remove the bar and make room for additional seating so you can turn over more tables. Why bother pretending to be a bar if you don’t care about that aspect of the business?

    • Remi Michaud

      I walk by this place pretty often and it does get busy on the weekends for dinner, but it’s true: nobody likes the bar and it clears out early due to lack of interest. The people making the decisions there obviously hired a really good chef, but they are out of touch with the market and the neighborhood. It’s a shame because we could use a nice bar that is better than the Dodger but keeps at least some of the pub elements, instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water.