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?

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Restaurant Review: Crow & the Pitcher

Crow & the Pitcher | Jason Varney

Crow & the Pitcher | Jason Varney

For food-obsessed Philadelphians, the first half of August unfolded like a rigged game of Two Truths and a Lie. In case you were down the Shore, let’s play. Pick the fib: The Ritz-Carlton turned over 10 Arts to a barbecue pit-master for a night; chef-cum-doughnut mogul Michael Solomonov came out in the New York Times as a self-described “crackhead” during Zahav’s early days; and Georges Perrier did a three-night gig at a restaurant that serves deep-fried pickles and a “Cool Ranch Dorito Omelette.”

Now, you already know the game’s fixed. All three are the God’s honest. But still, Georges Perrier—Georges “I declare war on Steve Starr” Perrier—moonlighting in a kitchen that crumbles junk food into the eggs? Well, that casts Le Bec-Fin’s legacy in an unexpected light.

The highbrow/no-brow tug-of-war has been playing out in Philly since at least the 2004 debut of Barclay Prime’s $100 cheesesteak, but Crow & the Pitcher (which marks chef Alex Capasso’s return to Philadelphia after seven years operating Blackbird in Collingswood) is our first restaurant to carry the yupster embrace of cognitive dissonance to what you might call a post-ironic stage.  

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Uneven Barbecue in Ambler

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Craig LaBan ventures to Ambler for the promise of barbecue and whiskey at the Lucky Well. What he finds is uneven at best. Chef/owner Chad Rosenthal has trouble with consistency.

I don’t doubt Rosenthal’s passion for BBQ. I could taste those good intentions on the St. Louis pork ribs, the bones dusted Memphis-style with spice, the pink-haloed meat clinging just right. The Lucky Well’s chicken wings also wore their smoke well enough. But I should have stopped there.

Food Network notoriety is no guarantee of culinary genius, a fact made abundantly clear by two meals in which virtually everything else fell flat.

One Bell – Hit-or-Miss

Dining Review: The Lucky Well [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Lucky Well [Official]

Cheese Curd Redemption at Independence Beer Garden

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Adam Erace reviews the pop-up Independence Beer Garden and offers tips for where and when to hang out but skewers the food, save what comes with cheese curds.

But don’t miss the cheese curds, light little poufs of tempura-fried Vermont goodness served with sweet, smoky tomato jam, the marinara to these new-school mozzarella sticks.

At Independence Beer Garden, a democratic menu of bar fare [City Paper]
Independence Beer Garden [Foobooz]

Experiencing the Heights of Soup at Stock

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Brian Freedman sings the praises of Stock, the Vietnamese cafe on Girard Avenue in Fishtown.

Beef pho tastes as deep as some sort of soupy Mariana Trench, the liquid exquisitely, exuberantly rich in character. Mushroom pho is built on a stunning umami-rich broth. Both of them, with a generous scattering of herbs and their perfectly cooked rice noodles, are large enough to share but good enough that you won’t want to. 

There’s way more to Stock than simple broth [Philadelphia Weekly]
Stock [Foobooz]

Two Bells for Crow and the Pitcher

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Craig LaBan enjoys the ampersand cuisine of Alex Capasso’s Crow & the Pitcher where Le Bec Fin’s gilded cheese cart meets up with small plates and burgers.

Capasso’s mussels are easily some of the best in town – clean, perfectly cooked, bathed in a creamy natural broth fortified with vermouth. The house-made charcuterie platter is also satisfying, its chicken terrine creamy with confit fat and leg meat, a heady lamb terrine piqued with olives & silky foie gras cured in Sauternes. Crisp nuggets of tender sweetbreads play against the bitter, roasty crunch of brussels sprouts in bordelaise.

Two Bells – Very Good

Crow & the Pitcher [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Crow & the Pitcher [Foobooz]

Joyless Kale Mars P.S. & CO. Experience

Photo by Emily Teel

Adam Erace checks out the vegan P.S. & CO. on Rittenhouse Square and doesn’t come away impressed.

The initials stand for Pure Sweets, Kyan’s original online business, but they could also mean Punishingly Saltless in the case of the summer roll’s tuft of clover sprouts, oranges, mint, and roasted chile tofu and weak ginger-pickled carrots  wrapped in a double layer of brown rice paper that was like chewing through rubber cement. While local vegan restaurants have been striving for crossover appeal, P.S. takes a more hardcore stance — the tea party Republican of vegan eateries.

The sweets fare better but ouch.

P.S. & CO., a business built on treats, opens a vegan eatery in Rittenhouse [City Paper]
P.S. & CO. [Foobooz]

Restaurant Review: Junto

September_Junto_ Credit Courtney Apple

Junto | Photos by Courtney Apple

“Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up,” members of Ben Franklin’s mutual aid society would ask one another, “whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?”

They’d ask the same thing about “deserving stranger[s] arrived in town since last meeting.” And while neither description exactly matches MacGregor Mann, who’s cooked in Philadelphia for more than a decade, they’re close enough. Before naming his solo debut after Franklin’s eclectic club, the Garces vet went on a culinary walkabout ranging from an Idaho fly-fishing lodge to a stage at Denmark’s Noma­—often named as the best restaurant in the world. And when he returned, he was bent on digging deeper into his home turf.

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Restaurant Review: Charlie Was a Sinner

Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney

Charlie Was a Sinner | Photos by Jason Varney

Just how much sinning do you like to do over dinner?

That’s a good question to chew on at Nicole Marquis’s mysterious new bar on 13th Street, where you can drink bourbon and absinthe beneath a looming hardback edition of In Cold Blood, watch sultry projections of Marilyn Monroe flicker upon the ruffles of a diaphanous wall curtain, and soak up your alcohol with food completely untainted by animal products.

In an era abounding with culinary hobgoblins—gluten for him, fructose for her, GMOs for the guy down the street—veganism still reigns unrivaled as the diet of the ethically upright. But the plant-only jawn feels a little racier at Charlie Was a Sinner, and not just because it’s next door to the last surviving porn shop on this once-seedy strip. Marquis, the woman behind HipCityVeg, named her lounge the way Elmore Leonard started crime novels. Who’s Charlie? Has he—or she—repented? Exactly what sort of sin are we talking about here?

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Tale of the Tape: Cheesesteak at Jimmy G’s

Jimmy G's Steaks next to the Divine Lorraine.

Jimmy G’s Steaks next to the Divine Lorraine.

Jimmy G’s is a relative newcomer to Philadelphia’s cheesesteak scene, opening in 2013. The location sits below the Divine Lorraine where Broad Street intersects Ridge Avenue. Though the building that houses Jimmy G’s is a large corner property, the cheesesteaks are ordered at a window similar to Pat’s or Geno’s in South Philadelphia. And this Broad Street cheesesteak place also only offers outdoor seating in the lot next to the cheesesteak stand. Jimmy G’s offers roast pork, roast beef, chicken steaks and French fries in addition to cheesesteaks, but on a splendid summer afternoon, we were hankering for a cheesesteak.

Jimmy G’s offers the option of chopped versus slab steaks. We tried one of each.

Keep reading the Tail of the Tape »

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