Middle Child Clubhouse, the Beloved Luncheonette’s Elevated Spin-Off, Lives Up to the Hype
The bigger, slicker, snarkier version of the wildly successful Wash West spot does breakfast and lunch like the original—and dinner like no one else.
The thing you have to understand about carjacking is that sometimes, it can happen completely by accident.
The thing you have to understand about Middle Child Clubhouse is that it had nothing to do with me almost accidentally carjacking a complete stranger in Fishtown on a Saturday night.
The thing you have to understand about me is that I’m an idiot.
Let me explain.
Middle Child Clubhouse is the all-grown-up spin-off of the wickedly successful Middle Child luncheonette that opened a few years back in Washington Square West. The original Middle Child is tiny. Cute. It glorifies comfort food and diner vibes, turns seats like a tornado, and treats its sandwiches and breakfast platters with a serious and considered attention.
Clubhouse is a different kind of animal. It has Middle Child’s DNA in it but is bigger, slicker, snarkier, somehow both more and less serious at the same time. Where the original seats a couple dozen when the house is full, Clubhouse can do a hundred. It offers breakfasts and lunches like the original (deli monsters given sympathetic makeovers so the grilled cheese comes with apple butter and prosciutto and the Reuben looks like glossy food porn on the house Instagram feed), but also dinner. There’s a pool table, and a bar program that’s smart without being overly clever. That “Clubhouse” name? That’s apt. At its best moments, that’s what MCCH feels like — a millennial Honeycomb Hideout, a neighborhood spot greased with a kind of frictionless, unironic nostalgia for Pixar movies, Princess Diana and junk food.
When the sun is up, the space is bright and airy and open, all subway tile and pale wood. At night, it’s dark corners and hot neon, every table cluttered with cheeseburgers that name-drop Burger King, platters of fries, pimento cheese smeared on saltine crackers, glasses of orange wine and rosé. On wilder nights, when the kitchen is feeling frisky, there are hot dogs topped with caviar, tuna crudo, T-bones and ice cream. On the regular ones, latkes okonomiyaki-style with Kewpie mayo and trout roe, vegetarian patty melts with onions that seem to evanesce to nothing, and rounds of pull-apart Parker House rolls with house brie butter that — with a drink and some good company — are reason enough to show up all on their own. The sudden menu changes just add to the hype (which is what MCCH lives on). They make the place feel alive.
One of the new(ish) changes? Takeout boxes (called “Bing Bong Boxes”) full of mostly off-menu items that lean in the direction of wild mash-ups — okonomiyaki fried chicken one week, chicken Caesar sandwiches the next. It’s a pandemic-friendly option, cool for a place that doesn’t otherwise do takeout.
So on a particularly dark, cold Saturday night in January, I went back to check those boxes out for myself. I wasn’t planning on staying — just getting my Bing Bong Box and bailing. My wife, Laura, drove. Dropped me off under the El. Went to circle the block a couple times, because parking in Fishtown is a nightmare.
Problem was, Clubhouse wasn’t doing takeout that night. The very kind hostess explained that the kitchen had run out of some vital ingredient for the night’s box and hadn’t been able to score a resupply. I texted Laura: No takeout tonight. Come get me. Then I stepped outside.
Did I mention it was cold? I had my hood up. My mask on. My head down. Hands buried in my pockets. I walked to the curb and, after a couple minutes, saw a car pull up on the sidewalk across the way. Same make as our car. Same color.
Must be Laura, I figured. Can you guess what happened next?
I ran across the street. Saw the lights blink. Saw someone inside wave. I lunged for the passenger-side door. Grabbed the handle.
And that car took off like a shot. Screaming tires, rooster-tails of dirt, the whole nine. It jerked out into traffic like this was a heist movie and was gone.
What the hell, Laura? I thought.
Then: Wait …
Then: Oh, shit.
So to whoever was driving that Hyundai SUV that night, let this be my apology. I’m sorry for almost accidentally carjacking you. I get now how it must have looked. Really, I was just a guy trying (and failing) to get some takeout. But I must have scared the hell out of you nonetheless, so I’d love to buy you a drink to apologize properly if you’re ever in the neighborhood again.
I know a great place right across the street.
3 Stars — Come from anywhere in the region
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in the region
★★★★: come from anywhere in the country
Published as “Forever Young” in the March 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.