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Southwark


Andrew Fenton
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Where does Southwark get its name? I suppose it's like a bulwark, defending South Street from South Philadelphia's barbarian hordes. Fortunately, the name is the most confusing part of the restaurant, which otherwise is a very nice little bistro.

We ate there last night, and I was struck, first off, by how great their bar is. I've gotten so used to eating at BYOB's that I've forgotten what a good bar can do for a restaurant. Friendly bartenders, a bunch of local folks sitting around drinking, and they make a pretty good Manhattan. Good enough for Fat Tony, that Manhattan.

There's a good selection of small plates (under $10) and a half-dozen or so entrees (all in the $15-20 range). I wasn't super-hungry (and after two beers before I got there, followed by that Manhattan, and another glass of wine, was starting to get super-drunk), and ordered a couple of small plates: a very nice marinated beet salad (great mustard vinaigrette and a pile of those wee little clover-like greens), and one of the specials, sweetbreads. Three chunks of fried sweetbreads, nestled on top of a blue cheese bread custard. Both the sweetbreads and the custard were tasty; if I have one complaint, it's that they kinda had the same texture: crispy-creamy. I'd have served the sweetbreads with something like shoestring potatoes, or maybe some greens. But whatever; they were good. And I'm such a fan of restaurants offering offal; Salt knew their way around a sweetbread and a tripe, and I kind of miss them. You listening, Southwark folks? Put sweetbreads on the menu, permanent-like!

I also tried a few other dishes, including the fried smelt: big smelt, deep-fried in batter. That part was a little weird: at their best, smelt are like aquatic popcorn, but this batter was a little much. The veal cheeks appetizer kicked some serious ass: braised, with a rich sauce and hand-cut pasta. Yow. Maybe the best thing I ate last night. I can't say the same about the London broil special: I mean, it's London broil. What are you gonna do with it? I just don't like it much, which is why I didn't order it. The polenta-parmesan cake that came with it was pretty good, though.

I didn't try the chocolate pot de creme, but my tablemates went through it like Sherman through Georgia. Instead, I split the mascarpone-honey crepe with hazelnuts. Not too sweet, and very good.

Bottom line: Southwark is worth checking out. I know that folks miss Tartine (I'm embarrassed that I never made it over there, given that it's right around the corner from me), but this seems like a pretty worthy successor.

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Where does Southwark get its name? I suppose it's like a bulwark, defending South Street from South Philadelphia's barbarian hordes. Fortunately, the name is the most confusing part of the restaurant, which otherwise is a very nice little bistro.

Actually Southwark is the name of a neighborhood in South Philadelphia. I am not sure of it's boundaries but I know I lived in it for many years at 7th and Manton.

CherieV

Eat well, drink better!

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Where does Southwark get its name?  I suppose it's like a bulwark, defending South Street from South Philadelphia's barbarian hordes.  Fortunately, the name is the most confusing part of the restaurant, which otherwise is a very nice little bistro.

Actually Southwark is the name of a neighborhood in South Philadelphia. I am not sure of it's boundaries but I know I lived in it for many years at 7th and Manton.

I believe that Southwark District in pre-1854-consolidation Philadelphia County lay just south of the City of Philadelphia, extending from the Delaware to somewhere around 8th or 9th streets and from South Street to Tasker Street.

Southwark Post Office (zip code 19147, which includes a portion of Center City below Pine and east of Broad) is at 10th and Dickinson streets.

Like many other American place names, it also comes to us from England: Southwark is also a borough of London, on the south bank of the Thames. James' reference to a "bulwark" is not off the mark: the "wark" refers to defensive "works" erected in the area. (I knew there was a reason for Wikipedia.)

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I managed to make it over to Southwark two weeks ago, when that kindly PW review came out (McCutcheon). I was pretty damn impressed by the menu, and although not everything lived up to the description, it was mostly very good at a very good price.

So it's not a byob, and it's not a gastro-pub...so what is it?

I posted a review (sadly only one pic came out presentably decent) on my blog:

Minor Gourmandry

and here's Sono M's latest review for the Daily News (I believe)...it ain't very good...the writing that is.

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Had late dinner last Friday (9:30 res) on short-notice reservation. I suspect once the word keeps getting out, that'll change.

Can second Andrew's praise of the veal cheeks, which one of us had and was wowed. Also, the oysters and the smelts were excellent.

I had a rabbit confit salad that rocked. Included were pears and oven(-poached?) grapes. A real winner.

Two of us had the cornmeal-crusted trout, and this dish was a sore disappointment, esp. cf. the other outstanding dishes. The fish was utterly devoid of any flavor or seasoning. The only gaffe committed by our stellar service was to call over the owner to handle the issue. We had praised everything up to then, so I felt a bit peeved at having to discourse on the inherent flavor or non-flavor of trout before it was removed (it got to where I actually said something stupid like, "I was at Django last week, and the trout I had that night was excellent. Didn't your wife used to cook there?"). The substituted salumi/cheese plate was only OK.

Still, I will certainly return. The food was by all means good enough to trump the odd disappointing dish. The bar crowd seems animated. Prices on drinks and wine (by the glass) are very fair.

Edited by cinghiale (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...
Still, I will certainly return.

I did last night. Walked in at 8:30 w/out a res and took a table in the front next to the bar. My friend and I shared a number of small plates and all were terrific. Smelts were smaller but more flavorful than last time and really rocked with a pint of IPA. Rabbit confit salad was still there (off the menu) and still great. Had a pork napoleon with it that was pretty creative, though the addition of honey had it verging toward cloying. House pinot noir pulled it together, though. The farmhouse salumi/pate/cheese plate is certainly competent, though they could do w/more than 4 micromini wedges of cheese. Their version of pineapple upsidedown cake was IMO enjoyable for its decided under-sweetness -- not yr mom's brown-sugar bomb, that. Finished w/a bottle of delightful frizzante ($25 for 375 ml).

Service was impeccable. Also, I dig the classy "uniform" of the bar staff -- white shirts w/sleeves pushed up + black tie. They look good in front of that really beautiful old bar.

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  • 9 months later...

bumping this thread up to say we went over to southwark last night and had an excellent meal, and that everyone should go back if you haven't recently.

we ate at the bar because when it's just the two of us we like to. and drinkwise, don't miss the yards spruce ale on tap, which is the best weird beer i've had in a long time. when i asked for a rye manhattan i was offered a choice of overholt, turkey, michters or rittenhouse..... awesome.

small plates were especially notable. a plate of house-cured bass was pretty strongly fishy (i don't mean that at all in a 'not fresh' way, just in a 'not mild' way), and it came with an orange dill creme fraiche that was on the border of being too sweet and orangey--but when you put them together and added the red onion and capers and toasted black bread, it suddenly became much more than the sum of its parts: not fishy, not sweet, but crazy good. a beet salad went in a similar direction--star anise in the dressing pulled the beets and greens together into this sweet, earthy combination that was out of this world. when was the last time you said out of this world about beets? this really was. incidentally, the reason i realized that it was star anise was that a couple of bits of it were in the salad. i know some people would consider that a flaw, but i'm the kind of person who is happier to know how it was made than to worry about that.

mains were a great fried quail--two quails fried in a fried chicken-esque coating, over root vegetables and chestnuts in a sweet-ish glaze/sauce. the quails were the whitest quail meat i've ever seen, cooked to a perfect medium, and truly excellent with a glass of that cotes du roussillon they've had there all three times i've been there.

smoked bison short ribs didn't fare quite as well--maybe because of the lack of fat that beef short ribs have, they were not quite as richly falling apart tender as the beef version is, and were served with polenta that solidified pretty quickly. i like polenta either soft and runny or hardened and fried/grilled, so this wasn't my style. but also keep in mind that we were sitting at the bar and it was about 15 degrees outside, so that was hardly their fault.

finished up with a plate of the butteriest butter cookies that ever buttered. if there's a recipe it's probably 'start with butter, add enough sugar to make them just a little sweet, and then add juuuuust enough flour and egg to hold everything together, and then, a little more butter and you're done.' great stuff, served with a tangy lemon curd that was intensely lemon peel flavored.

anyway, the point is, the food was great, the owner and bartender were a pleasure to deal with, and as with so many places in town, i wish i could get back there more often.

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when i asked for a rye manhattan i was offered a choice of overholt, turkey, michters or rittenhouse..... awesome.

eye-popping.gif

Say WHAT!!! There's a bar that I could crawl-home-from-naked-on-my-belly-over-two-blocks-of-broken-glass that has FOUR kinds of rye on the rail and I didn't know??? :shock:

Dude. You're killin' me here... :raz:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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yeah! i was caught off guard by the number too. i said, do you have rye for a manhattan? and dude rattles off all the ryes they carry. they might have beam too; i could be misremembering--i know overholt, michters and rittenhouse were options. he makes a damn good drink, too. one note: the default is to shake the hell out of it, and i like things not quite as frothy and ice-chippy as a shaken drink usually is. but considering the fact that i was already ordering a rittenhouse manhattan perfect twist no cherry, i was feeling foppish enough without specifying the mixing method too...

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ordering a rittenhouse manhattan perfect twist no cherry, i was feeling foppish enough without specifying the mixing method too...

snob.gif

:laugh:

Funny - I'm exactly the opposite. I usually tell the bartender "Shake it like it's someone you hate that won't shut up!" :biggrin:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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  • 2 months later...

I had one of the best meals of my life (that I didn't cook

myself...) this Saturday at Southwark Cafe. If you haven't yet tried

this restaurant, run - don't walk to the phone and make a reservation!

This small but charming cafe is located on the southeast corner of 4th

and Bainbridge. The dark wood barroom and tiny dining room are simply

but elegantly decorated. For a dining room so small the tables are

nicely spaced. The staff was friendly and helpful. But the food - OMG!

My husband, Joe and I each ordered appetizers, entrees and, although we usually

don't, dessert. We shared everything for maximum tasting coverage.

Nothing was disappointing.

We started with a grilled partially boned quail serverd over a jicama

and watercress salad with a simple red wine vinaigrette and a pickled

quail egg. The bird was perfectly cooked, with just enough char on the

crispy skin. The piping-hot flesh was juicy and succulent, which was

nice because it's easy to dry out a bird so small. The nutty jicama and

peppery watercress played a great supporting roll for the delicate

meat.

Our other appetizer was just plain amazing: a grilled baby wild boar

loin and chop served over a mix of baby beets, braised endive, and

prunes, spiked with a little armagnac and sprinkled with toasted hickory

nuts. I'm drooling with the memory of this dish. The adorable little

chop (think lamb chop-sized) packed an intense pork flavor like I had

never tasted. It was perfectly seasoned, and the saute beneath it

offered something for every tastebud: sweetness from the beets and prunes,

bitter endive, tangy armagnac, nutty/earthy hickory nuts and the

intense slightly gamey umami (with a sprinkle of sea salt) from the wild

meat.

I had heard good things about the veal cheeks on this menu so I opted

for that dish. The cheek meat had been braised and pulled, and made

into an amazing melt-in-your-mouth ragout. A hint of tomato brightened

the fatty richness of the intensely marbled cheeks, and a drop of cream

smoothed all of the flavors together. This heavenly mixture was served

over house-made pappardelle that was as light and thin as satin ribbon.

The sauce clung to the pasta like a lover.

Joe ordered one of the tempting specials - a shad and sea scallop

combination that embodied a full seafood flavor spectrum. The shad was

pan-seared, dark, salty and oily - everything that shad should be. The

inch-wide diver scallops were seared to a caramelized crust on the

outside but sweet, tender and meltingly medium rare on the inside. This

delicious duo was served on a bed of slightly wilted baby frisee with a

light citrus dressing peppered with crimson beads of briney tilefish

roe. The flavors were all tied together with wafer-thin slices of dried

key lime - chewy, tangy, zesty and amazing with a bite of shad.

Having had such tremendous success with our first two courses we

decided to order dessert. The just-right porion sizes on appetizer and

entree left us with just enough room. Still in sharing mode we ordered

the mascarpone and honey crepes, and the sorbet du jour, apple cider &

brandy. The sorbet was clean and light with a great apple flavor, a

hint of lemon and brandy in the finish, and not too boozey or sweet. The

crepes were unbelievable. (I've never seen Joe swoon over a dessert

before.) Etherially light and tender, with a sweet-salty-eggy flavor

(but not too sweet, salty or eggy) these crepes were filled with just a

schmear of buttery mascarpone, drizzled lightly with honey, and sprinkled

with toasted hazel-and pinenuts. The end

result was creamy melt-in-the-mouth harmony so perfect I almost

ordered one more.

All this, three beers and a bottle of Pinot Noir rang in at just over

$100, and one of the best Franklins we've ever spent. Go to Southwark.

Now.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Great article - I'll Take Manhattan, in the latest Philadelphia Weekly about the classic cocktails, the fabulous rye selection and the old school vibe at Southwark. Congratulations to Kip Waide and the staff at Southwark! Praise that's well deserved. I've tucked back a fine rye Manhattan or two at their bar more than once and concur completely. :smile:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Back to the name Southwark

I was taking the Jubilee Line of the London subway today and lo and behold there is a stop called Southwark except they pronounce it without the "W"

SOUTH - ARK :huh:

they also pronounce greenwich that way, but if you're driving in south philly and you stop and ask someone where 'grenich' street is, you're gonna get some confused looks...

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  • 1 year later...

i can't believe it's been nearly a year and a half since i've been back to southwark, but we got over there again a couple weeks ago with a couple of friends--a picky eater and his wife, who longs for anything that's not the same four things that he eats day in and day out... we figured southwark would be a good compromise -- there's always a piece of steak or chicken on the menu, after all, and the cooking there has always been straightforward enough that they wouldn't 'goop it up,' as my mother in law would describe it.

so, one thing hasn't changed: the bar is fantastic. i would spend a lot of time here if i lived down there and didn't have the boy to take care of. had a great manhattan, and after some discussion, i might have ended up signing myself up for a special order $100 bottle that the bartender was putting together.

we had great appetizers: some snails with small cheese-filled crepes (delice de bourgogne), a nice beet salad, some roasted fingerling potatoes. following up on these, i had a shad&roe special, and there was a rabbit with beans, and lamb that i didn't try, and a flank steak.

all (that i had) tasted great, but some execution glitches kind of marred the dinner for me. on the service side, there were pretty long delays in taking orders and bringing drinks, as well as between apps and entrees. my shad was great but the roe was pretty much overcooked, while the steak that my friend ordered medium was pretty far to the rare side of medium rare (the bacon and brussels sprouts it came with were great, though). the meat was cooked perfectly for someone like me, but not so much for him -- being the 'never send anything back' sort, he kind of ate the edges off of the rarer pieces...

anyway i'd still recommend it, but with a few more reservations than before. i mean i really enjoyed the food and the restaurant in general, but had some rough edges that would make me pause before recommending it to someone who might be upset by the sort of things i mention above.

and i would enthusiastically recommend it to someone who loved cocktails. the bar is great. in fact, i wonder if my impression this time around is based on being at a table, when the last few times we were there we sat and ate at the bar. i find you almost always get a more attentive, more pleasant, less... well, less formal and more personable experience when you eat at the bar in a decent restaurant. it's why i always prefer it. hm....

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Southwark is my go-to usually at least a couple of times per week because it's stumbling distance from my house. And conveniently located just about where I get thirsty on my walk home from work. I've spent a great deal of time at that bar. And if I'm not mixing it myself, I can think of few folks I'd rather have making me my cocktail than Kip or George.

So they talked you into a bottle of the Black Maple Hill, eh? Lucky you. I'm waiting for their supply to come in (dependent on them finding folks to take the rest of the mixed case they ordered) so I can treat myself to a taste of both the 18 and 23 year old on a night I'm feeling both flush and adventurous.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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haha, not so much talked me into it, as listened to me whine about how i could only get old overholt, beam and michters here in PA without doing an SLO, and then mentioned it. i was like, sounds good, sign me up.

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i just wrote a little post on it at my site. i think i embarrassed myself the night we were all sharing and tasting the manhattans. kip and george were patient with us though and we had a great time. you know a place is good when there's a very regular crowd and there certainly is that there. when it's restaurant folk that you know/work with (katie/everybody from Ansill), well then you KNOW it's good.

p.s. george took the pic of the rye collection in the post. :D

--

matt o'hara

finding philly

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