Restaurant Review: Junto

MacGregor Mann is back in town and making a play for history.

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.

Discouraged by downtown rents, Mann ended up in Chadds Ford. And though its location in the Olde Ridge Village Shoppes is a little lonely—and its servers are a little tentative—Junto the BYOB does right by its historical inspiration. A promising young beginner, indeed.
Being a hop and a skip from Kennett, Mann, of course, can’t fail on the fungus front. Impeccable chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms perfumed bowls of late-spring English peas. Delicate huitlacoche riwwels amplified the savory aspects of a smoked chicken soup enriched with a sweet corncob consommé that evoked the timeless comfort of countryside summers.

That soup, garnished with homemade corn nuts dusted with an attention-getting blend of dehydrated local chilies, is alone worth the drive. Paired with Mann’s masterful alder-smoked sturgeon (which is incredibly moist for how smoky it is), it’s worth a drive from Wilmington. Sides like steel-cut buckwheat and whey-fermented peas reveal Mann as an innovative guardian of his customers’ health. If strawberry-and-rhubarb season lasted forever, and with it an early summer panna cotta that paired exceptionally flavorful exemplars of both with crispy cornbread crumbles, Philadelphians, too, could confidently gas up their cars.

But you can also order less luckily. My steamed clams were surprisingly sandy. Mann’s dehydrated scallop chip—a takeaway from his prep duty at Noma—is the single best bite I’ve had all summer, but I just wish it had been a main attraction, rather than the sole spark in a flat-tasting bowl of beef and skate cheeks on Tarbais beans. Better were the refried cranberry beans accompanying lamb chops sauced with date jus and minted yogurt, their delicate outer skins transformed into wispy, crispy filigrees.

Fate is smiling on you if you get a shot at Mann’s limited-availability dry-aged duck dinner. From an amuse of semi-frozen cherries stuffed with duck confit, to coriander-crusted breasts, to shredded leg meat tucked into confit turnip and potato cups, it should put Junto at the top of every Delaware County foodie’s list for a grown-up night out.

And really, it should be on every city dweller’s radar, too.

2.5 stars out of 4 – Good to Excellent

Junto [Foobooz]