The Easy, Breezy, Laid-Back, Super-Relaxed, We-Love-Summer Guide to Outdoor Dining
On the Patio
The setting — a peaceful, pretty stretch of the Schuylkill; twinkling Boathouse Row — isn’t just the reason to dine at Water Works; it’s the raison d’être for the restaurant itself. Chef Darryl Harmon’s duo of tartars (ruby tuna on a pile of lemony cucumber, and salmon on a briny potato salad) may be light and gratifying; the puffs of goat cheese under a tender rack of lamb may be heady; the sautéed mushrooms may be zesty and addictive. But they won’t necessarily help you overlook dishes that occasionally fall flat, or service that’s sometimes lacking. (One waiter forgot the salads, and left us without drinks for 30 minutes.) What will: the total contentment — bliss, even — of a summer supper and a good riesling under a flickering tiki torch at Philadelphia’s loveliest spot.
1927 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-5626, levirtu.com
In the middle of South Philly’s concrete desert is Le Virtu’s new brick patio — fringed with actual grass. It’s easy to embrace the summer vibe here as you sip a Dogfish Head draft under an umbrella. For the season, Le Virtu has lightened up its Italian menu with raw preparations, like a salmon and swordfish carpaccio, and grilled dishes. And the excellent house-made pasta tastes even fresher dressed with a lemony sauce and ribbons of prosciutto. The outdoor service is decidedly unhurried, offering time to unwind. The spacious outdoor tables are set comfortably far back from the street, but it’s wise to focus your attention on the flickering candles or the verdant lawn instead of the neighbor washing his car at the curb.
The new outpost of Joe Brown’s Melange Café offers a spacious patio with leafy views of quaint Haddonfield (if you face away from the PATCO parking lot). This BYOB’s sweet servers are quick to open your wine, rattle off the numerous specials — Creole dishes are Chef Brown’s specialty — and even whisk you indoors if inclement weather threatens. Red beans and rice topped with chicken breast and sour cream is one example of Brown’s bold Southern cooking, and Louisiana barbecue shrimp with cheese biscuits conjure up the spicy fare of New Orleans, even if shell-on shrimp make this saucy dish a challenge to eat. Portions are huge, but save room for dessert: The pecan pie is the best this side of the Mason-Dixon.
175 King of Prussia Road, Radnor, 610-293-9411, pondrestaurant.com
In a setting with such surefire crowd-drawing power — lush, woodsy, and yes, there’s a pond — some cooks would be content to sling ho-hum hash. Yet the Mediterranean kitchen at Pond turns out prettily plated dishes — grilled jumbo shrimp with coconut basmati rice, grilled pork tenderloin with lentils — on a tented patio backdropped by bubbling fountains and bright-blossomed gardens. The outside bar buzzes at happy hour (fair warning: so might the mosquitoes), and the menu from Pond’s sister restaurant, casual bistro Cassis, is also available alfresco. On steamy nights, the house-made dulce de leche ice cream is a must-have meal-ender.
Kafe at Rat’s at the beautiful Grounds for Sculpture does one better than your run-of-the-mill museum eatery: It makes you part of the art. You can’t make reservations for a seat on the outdoor patio at this whimsical fairy tale of a restaurant, but waiting here means a charming stroll through the garden’s artistic and natural treasures. Once seated, you’ll savor punchy vodka cocktails with a view of Monet’s Giverny garden pond — the iconic image of a bridge over lily pads brought to life. On the plate, this same artistry is applied to a casual cafe menu of steak frites, spring pea risotto and saffron mussels.
The Promenade at Sagemore, 500 Route 73 South, Marlton, 856-396-0332,
By day, the lushly landscaped outdoor bar at Redstone is a pleasant place for leisurely family lunches of roast chicken flatbreads and Waldorf salads. Come nightfall, older couples and 20-something crowds lounge with cocktails, ESPN on plasmas, and meant-for-sharing appetizer platters filled with sliders, seared tuna and grilled wings. Thanks to strategically placed plants, catalog-pretty oversize outdoor furniture and atmospheric lighting, you’ll never realize you’re actually relaxing beside the parking lot. Alas, the long waits and hit-or-miss service will remind you that this is — gasp — a chain. You’ll forgive all come fall, when the toasty fire pit makes cool October nights feel like L.A. winters.