First Look: South Helm


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Cooking is hard.

It’s hard because it takes incredible skill, talent, and tenacity to climb the ladder of the kitchen. It’s hard because it requires long hours in an uncomfortable working environment for not a lot of money. And it’s hard because kitchens are a powder keg of both ambition and stress. But one reason that it’s hard, not as visible as those above, is the fact that cooking the same dishes over and over again is just boring.

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carrot, spring onion, smoked whitefish

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chicken, burrata, squash

It’s true. Preparing the same dish the same way day in and out is mind-numbing–the actual, literal opposite of the variety and creativity that might inspire one to pursue restaurant work in the first place. The fact that it’s boring is why new restaurants by seasoned restaurateurs explore the fresh: concepts, scales, flavors, levels of formality, and neighborhoods. For many, this reinvention is necessary. It’s a way of finding again the inspiration that originally drove someone into the incredibly risky business of restaurant ownership in the first place.

In rare cases, though, there’s no reinvention necessary.

Chef-duo Kevin D’Egidio and Michael Griffiths are best friends. Last spring they left Stateside and Fork, respectively, to open a place of their own, called Helm, on a relatively anonymous block in Olde Kensington, and since they opened they have spent the last year in a steady shower of praise.

For their next trick? A second helping of the same, this one called South Helm, perched at the very corner of the very end of Morris Street in Pennsport.

Though the two restaurants are undeniably related–with their same homey rusticity, their chalkboard menus, their BYOB policy and their vinyl soundtracks–the similarities end with the menu itself. You’ll still find plates to share: deeply caramelized vegetables, handmade pastas, and even the sweet little gateaux basque to finish the meal. These two restaurants are definitely sisters, but they aren’t twins. The menu at each is completely different. In this way, it’s as though Helm just built an addition, a second dining room, only it happens to be a few miles across town.

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bucatini, soft shell, pepperoncini

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18 hour braised cabbage, XO sauce, longhots

Gracing this new menu in the early weeks of Helm 2.0 you’ll find a deft hand with seasonal flavors. A delicate little plate of house-made burrata, the cheese stuffed with lemon and charred long hots, is served with a tumble of pickled onion, peas, mint, chives, and wood sorrel. There’s a wedge of red cabbage—slow roasted for 18 hours—brightened up with an shellacking of pureed charred long hots and XO sauce and a heavy sprinkle of breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. Carrots dotted with spring onion puree and shreds of smoked whitefish balance smoky, sharp, and sweet. And a little plate of bucatini tossed with soft-shell crab ragout transmits the sunny, seasonal, soft-shell flavor throughout, adding bursts of and pepperoncini pucker and umami crunch from shreds of deep fried shiitake.

The very opposite of boring, in cases like that of South Helm, there’s only one thing to say: more, please.

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South Helm [f8b8z]