The Leftovers: Buckminster’s
Even after finishing yesterday’s review of Buckminster’s, I still had some things to say that didn’t make it into the final copy. So here, in no particular order, are a few more random thoughts on Michael Pasquarello‘s and Rob Marzinsky‘s Point Breeze neo-bistro.
–Yes, I had some issues with the way the menu was conceived–with the randomness of it, the complete lack of a unifying logic. And while that’s essentially a structural problem (or, maybe, just a failure of intent), what really kills me about it is that its scattershot construction ends up hiding some really excellent dishes. The bologna (which I’ll get back to below) is obvious enough, but someone eating at Buckminster’s for the first time and confused by how to assemble a meal from all these odds and ends could easily miss something like the crispy chicken. You’d never know how simple and easy and approachable a dish it is by reading the menu–just buttermilk-fried chunks of tender chicken served with shredded daikon, pickled long hots and a drizzle of some kind of sweet-hot sauce acting as a kind of base salad. Sitting there eating it felt like being an overgrown kid stuffing my face with the best chicken McNuggets ever. It was a great dish, different than the fried chicken with watercress and fried onion that it had been a few weeks before and different than what was being offered when I hit the place again right before the review went up online (I didn’t order it that time so can’t quite recall how it was being prepared), but it’s essentially a simple, delicious dish hidden by the overwhelming schizophrenia of Marzinsky’s menu.
–Everything I said above? Goes double for the fried bologna sandwich. Does a fried bologna sandwich seem like a ridiculous thing to order for dinner at a bar? Yes, it does. But this one–made with thick-cut Lebanon bologna, cheese from Ely Farm, spelt bread and a sour cherry mostarda–is just a beautiful mess of a sandwich wearing a sunny side up egg like a crown. It’s awesome. Drunk food elevated to a work of art by excellent sourcing and intelligent work in the kitchen.
–Speaking of bologna, the Ely Farm honey bologna that I loved so much and gushed over in the review? It’s not currently on the menu. I had it on a Thursday night. By the following Wednesday, it was gone (like the pierogi before it, and so many other interesting dishes). I asked the bartender what’d happened, and she gave me the standard response–that the chef changes the menu according to what’s available and what he’s excited by. But as for the bologna specifically? The kitchen had run out and they were waiting to get more from Ely Farm. Here’s hoping that the delivery comes quick and that the dish makes a fast return because, seriously? You guys have got to try this stuff. It really is exactly as amazing as I said.
–I just had to use this again. It makes me laugh every time I see it. NEO-BISTRO!!!!
–One of the times I was there, I talked a friend of mine into ordering the house gin and tonic that I’d hated. I did it because I’m a jerk who thinks it’s funny to watch the reactions of people eating or drinking things that I know are awful, but also as a kind of double-check on my first impression. Anyway, I felt bad about it after because my friend really tried to gut it out and finish her cocktail, but she TOTALLY hated it. To the house’s credit, when the bartender noticed her struggling, she didn’t just take it away and make her something else (as would’ve been the most basic solution), and certainly didn’t argue when my friend said she didn’t like it (which is always the worst thing to do). Instead, she took the time to have a considered conversation about the drink–honestly concerned and interested to hear what my friend thought was wrong with it. I felt the answer was obvious: NO ONE SHOULD EVER MIX GIN AND LAVENDER. But as it turned out, the house-made tonic was also not so great. I appreciated the fact that the staff actually wanted to know what was wrong with something a customer didn’t like–not just what they could replace it with.
–In the comments section of the review, someone seconded my feelings about having a burger on the menu. Yes, the reflexive inclusion of a burger on a bar menu can seem a bit pedestrian sometimes, but let’s remember here that Buckminster’s isn’t Michael Pasquarello’s only restaurant. In addition to Bufad, Cafe Lift and Prohibition Taproom, he and his wife Jeniphur also operate Kensington Quarters, the kick-ass butcher shop and restaurant. Which means that Marzinsky has access to some of the best meat in the city and could, conceivably, make one of the best burgers in the city out of it. And while some dull, knee-jerk burger would be pointless here, no one is ever going to knock you for having the best burger on your bar menu. And honest-to-Jeebus, between the product available to him and his own proven talent, I think Marzinsky could come up with a great one.
–Buckminster’s has a brunch that a lot of people really like. The menu for it makes a lot more sense than the dinner menu in that it offers dishes which are recognizably brunch-y (eggs, toast, fried potatoes, etc). You should go check it out if you’re waking up in Point Breeze this weekend. Buckminster’s also has a special Sunday menu of curries and beers. The pickled pear massaman curry off the regular dinner menu is on there, as are some additional offerings (like a Thai pork curry with coconut milk) which rotate regularly. This menu works, too, because it is contained: there are curries and then there are beers. You know what you’re getting yourself into with something like that. Anyway, Art checked it out last weekend and he really liked it, so there’s another option for you if the idea of trying to make a Tuesday night dinner of fried parsnip, beet soup and God’s own bologna seems too challenging for you.
–I went back and forth about the star rating for Buckminster’s. Again, I feel like any choice I made was going to be the wrong one. 1 star? Sure, with American Sardine Bar close by, and Los Camaradas and Sidecar just a few blocks away, I could make an argument that Buckminster’s was a place to only check out on a night that presented no other options. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that, on a dish-by-dish basis, this menu is one of the best (also: craziest) I’ve seen in a while. Three stars? That’s where the food is–anyone who cares about food ought to be checking out what Marzinsky is doing, no matter where you’re coming from–but giving three to a place where the experience of dining is so uncomfortable (and cold and weird) felt wrong, too. Hence, a grudging two stars. It was a compromise and I hate that, but since I’ve already made it clear that I hate the star system in general, just take it with as many grains of salt as necessary. If you love food more than furniture, get here. If you’re going to get into a snit over cheap tableware or spartan design, don’t. Simple as that.
–Finally, for those of you commenting on how I only went to Buckminster’s once for this review? You’re wrong. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear about my multiple visits and precisely how I spent my time, but I’m more concerned with getting at the feel and experience of a place and how it fits into the larger landscape of Philadelphia’s dining scene than I am with telling you exactly how many times I went and every bite I ate. There are times when I do a review of a single visit (example: Craftsman Row Saloon. Also, Aldine, kinda), but I generally make it clear when I do that. The rest of the time, I’m returning as often as I need to in order to answer the questions I have about a restaurant, a chef, a dish, whatever. What I’m saying is, don’t try to LoJack me on these things. That’s not how we play here.
As for those of you saying I’m nothing like Craig Laban? You’re absolutely right. He’s better looking, but I’m the better dancer.