First Look: Whetstone Tavern

Back in the day, in the kitchen of the corner spot at 5th and Bainbridge when it was still called Coquette, head chef Jeremy Nolen first met his wife, Jessica

Now, in the midsummer restaurant lull, the pair (in partnership with patrons Doug and Kelly Hager) have opened Whetstone Tavern in the same space. Quietly poised to become Queen Village’s new favorite destination for Sunday supper or Mother’s Day brunch, Whetstone is comfortable. Simultaneously cozy and flooded in natural light, it will immediately appeal to the then-recent-grads who hung out at Ten Stone a decade ago, now all grown up with families of their own. In fact, a kids menu flanks the adult version hung by the front door. And while the flavors on offer on the main menu represent a departure from the nouveau German ones we’ve seen from the Nolens at Brauhaus and Wursthaus Schmitz, Whetstone promises food that is no less satisfying.

Kung pao chicken wings with tangy celery slaw, “Dad’s Burger” on a potato roll, baked oysters, a Caesar salad, roasted chicken, and a crock of mac and cheese. This is food that, in some ways, seems obvious. It’s a menu of standards that aren’t necessarily innovative, but don’t need to be. What they are instead is thoughtful. Well crafted. Without unnecessary flourish.

One dish has the potential to be Philly’s next Instagram sensation: a tin cup of fried-to-order pork rinds, delivered to the table still snap-crackle-popping, a bottle of tangy, barely hot Cholula alongside. Pork also plays into the entree section of the menu, a nod to Passyunk Avenue, as a fat chop studded with black pepper and served over polenta with broccoli rabe, more of those pork rinds crumbled over top, melting into everything. And its not just a parade of pork, either. There are autumnal flavors in the rabbit tettrazini with beech mushrooms, or the roasted beets and carrots with mâche, za’taar and fenugreek oil.

Jessica Nolen’s desserts are homey but smart. Lemon merengue cheesecake stacks two diner favorites: cheesecake topped with extra-tart lemon curd and crowns of torched merengue. More Americana arrives as cobbler, apple pie, or chocolate peanut butter pie, and a thoroughly sweet maple custard pie makes its whipped cream hat seem demure.

Late Summer, a notoriously dead season for Philly’s restaurants, might not seem like ideal timing to open a new place, but here’s hoping that Whetstone takes the slack season to work out any opening jitters. Because there’s no doubt they’ll be slammed come September.

Whetstone Tavern [f8b8z]