Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Square Peg

What's with all the hating on Square Peg?  Craig Laban's review did them no favors, nor did Trey Popp's piece in Philly mag. Matt Levin seems to have built up a certain level of expectation with the foodie crowd that is now biting him in the poutine. After reading both of the above mentioned reviews with much anticipation, I was left like a sailboat without wind, aimlessly looking for direction on how to interpret our own experience here. 

As the Dalai Lama once said, "If you have no expectations you will never be disappointed." What an amazing way to look at life, and restaurants. Luckily for us, the official reviews had not been published when we ate. I only read them afterwards, and felt truly surprised by the night and day experiences we had. We were at the mercy of only our taste buds, and they were happy. 

deviled eggs
Beautifully made deviled eggs, with bits of fresh dill and whole mustard seeds for extra umph. A zingy wasabi sauce is a subtle counterpoint for the richly whipped egg yolks. A deal for $4.  

mahi quesadilla

Another good bar snack was the mahi mahi quesadilla. Crumbled cojita cheese on top, creamy guac and pickled veggies with a just crisped tortilla. Tender hunks of mahi inside with melted pepper jack. Yumm. 

mac & cheese "grilled cheese"

Take some homemade mac & cheese, stuff that between two pieces of buttered bread, and then grill it on a flat top. The result is kind of ridiculous and indulgently deliciousWithout the picture, this one would be hard to describe. The view when cut open is priceless. The little bowl of tomato soup tasted like it came from a can; I would have preferred some Sriracha to cut through all the dairy and add some needed heat.  However, this is definitely a fun thing to order and a conversation starter for sure. One slice per person is enough, unless you're going the twins/triplets food baby route. 

fried chicken, collards, kool-aid watermelon

Levin knows a thing or two about fried chicken. The version he did at Adsum was memorable for the ultra crispy outer shell - when you bit into it, diners three tables over could hear you chomping away. He's brought that same deftness with the bird to Square Peg, where he has single-handedly created the most racist dish in Philadelphia. That same incredibly crunchy fried chicken - a hard outer shell but all tender inside like a Patrick Dempsey rom-com. Under the chicken is a pile of spicy collard greens, a small drizzle of honey hot sauce, and on the side a cube of kool-aid infused watermelon. 

I hadn't put it together at the time. But over dinner with a friend a few shades darker than my northern European self the other night, he professed that he would never eat here because of this dish. I think that might be a bit extreme, but I can see his point. The kool-aid watermelon thing is walking a fine line. The chicken is pretty damn good though. It's worth stopping in just for that. I'd put it in the top 5 of the city, especially now that Meme is closed. 

A pretty decent falafel plate. Grilled flat bread pita, pickled red onion & cucumber. A roasted cauliflower salad on the side. Big, crunchy falafel balls that were nicely fried and soft on the inside. It's not exactly Zahav, but tasty nonetheless and a somewhat healthier and definitely lighter alternative to the burgers, fried chicken and pierogies that litter the rest of the menu. I really liked the roasted cauliflower, which is saying something. Cauliflower is one of the few foods I really don't get excited about. Roasting them to golden brown gave them some crunch and a real depth of flavor that you just don't get any other way. Nicely played. 

deep fried pork chop

They deep fried a pork chop. Seriously. I wish I could tell you how good it was but I didn't order it. The guy who did barely stopped to take a breath between bites, so I assume it was tasty. I mean, how can you go wrong deep frying a pork chop? It was the special of the night and not on the regular menu. Hopefully it's there next time we go back.  

Square Peg is not the best restaurant in the city. It's probably not even in the top 10 or 20. But it is a whole lot better than critics have been giving it credit for. A menu of elevated bar snacks and creative presentations pushes the culinary envelope a bit. It's not Adsum, so don't walk through the front door expecting that. Instead, do as the Dalai Lama recommends - don't let yourself be disappointed. 

Food Baby Rating: Only Child

Square Peg
929 Walnut Street (at 10th)
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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