Review: Django, Remastered

Can the beloved South Street BYOB thrive under new management?

When Greg Salisbury and Ross Essner of West Philly’s Rx acquired Django late last year, I thought it was folly for them to hold onto the name, which was so closely associated with Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy, creators of the cult-favorite BYOB. But the new owners wanted continuity: Salisbury and Essner retained the homespun tea-towel tablecloths, the signature flowerpot bread, the crowd-pleasing cheese plate, and much of the staff. Eight months into their stewardship, Django continues to be a satisfying destination for seasonally inspired dishes fashioned from local ingredients.

Essner’s cooking style is more rustic than Sikora’s, and his plates can be busy: I felt winded just reading about the barbecue-spiced pan-fried oysters with baby spinach, pickled red onion and beets, lardons and Roquefort dressing. But other dishes feel exactly right, including the sea scallops that mingle nicely with black-eyed peas, spicy sausage, broccoli rabe and mussels in a lemon-infused broth. The crisp sweetbreads appetizer beats competing versions at nearby Ansill, Gayle and Southwark.

Though small plates are in fashion in this neighborhood, Django’s options are hearty. Accompaniments can be as elegant as the duck confit-filled “cigar” that garnishes a tidy stack of duck breast slices, or as earthy as the fist-size rice fritter that almost dwarfs a pair of buttery lamb T-bones. The cheese plate rounds up nearly a dozen morsels of varieties from goats, sheep and cows, from at least four countries. A printed guide would be helpful, because it’s very hard to hear the cheeses described in the noisy dining room. Save room for the Whoppers (chocolate profiteroles with chocolate malt ice cream and malted crème anglaise) or the Italian trio (tiny tastes of warm zabaglione, panna cotta with raspberry sauce, and tiramisu).

One noticeable difference at Django: Reservations are easy. I booked a Friday night with just a few days’ notice, and a weeknight on the same day.