I want to visit the “Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia” exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it has been so damn hot that the thought of walking up the Parkway and climbing the stairs leaves me gasping for breath. Fortunately, the exhibit runs through Sept. 3.
I am always looking for new restaurants near the museum and I found a charming pub. Lemon Hill opened in December in Fairmount. The corner location has been a revolving door of restaurants for at least 20 years, but this establishment hit the mark in a number of ways and may just stay around for a while.
An employee greeted Sandy, Edward and me at the door. Lemon Hill retains the original tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and lots of warm wood trim. There is an extensive beer list and I asked Steve, our waiter, to help me make a selection from the tap list. A Brooklyn Blast Pale Ale ($6) has a limited run, but I found it a little hoppy with a refreshing flavor. We also sampled a Terrapin Hopsecutioner ($6.50), IPA from Athens, Ga., which was a little lighter but filled with flavor.
We began dinner with chicken livers ($6), beets ($6), broccoli ($6) and pastrami fried chicken wings ($9).
The chicken livers were cut into bite-size pieces, coated in cornmeal and quickly cooked. I found the creamy texture inside was a nice foil for the slightly crisp coating outside. I spread some on buttered toast and particularly liked the pickled onions and dipping sauce. A rainbow of cool, chunky beets were bathed in a tangy yogurt dressing and topped with minced herbs. You may think it odd to begin a meal with broccoli, but this appetizer was delicious. It packed a bit of a punch. Each piece was topped with seasoned crumbs, which was a nice contrast with the toothiness of the broccoli.
I usually shy away from chicken wings because, more times than not, they are ghastly. Lemon Hill’s version immediately gets three toques. About seven wings were coated in the spices used to cure pastrami and light crumbs and then flash fried. They were meaty and tasty with or without the homemade Russian dressing that came with the order. We should have ordered another round.
Although Sandy’s taste buds have improved since she began joining us, she usually plays it safe. She ordered a patty melt ($13), a beloved sandwich from my childhood. Steve advised us that Lemon Hill uses thickly sliced, Texas-type bread. It is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a burger wedged inside. The beef was uncommonly good and nicely seasoned, but the bread was too thick and not properly grilled. The French fries, however, were hot and crispy.
Edward’s pork belly ($12) wins an award. The meat was so tender and slow-cooked that it literally melted in my mouth. I’ve had tough versions of this now-classic restaurant dish, but this was by far the best. The homemade Boston-style baked beans were the perfect side dish – a bit on the spicy side with the smoky flavor of bacon.
My shrimp and grits ($14) was the only disappointing dish of the evening. Two medium-sized shrimp, with heads intact, were just OK. I enjoy pulling off the heads and sucking out the good stuff, but the shells were on, and it was difficult for me to eat them. Collard greens can be tricky. The texture was fine, but they were doused in maple syrup that made them inedible. To make matters more difficult, the collards sat on the grits and ruined my dining experience. Steve remedied this immediately and brought me a bowl of steaming hot stone-ground grits from South Carolina, which redeemed my experience. These are nothing like the Quaker Oats grits bought in the supermarket. Their flavor and texture were divine.
Lemon Hill is a fine addition to the Art Museum neighborhood. I intend to return for a bowl of mussels of the day, a catfish club or big salad after savoring the Arcadia exhibit at the Art Museum.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to Lemon Hill. SPR
747 N. 25th St.
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