Philadelphia has been famous for its bread ever since Ben Franklin arrived here from Boston munching on a roll. The aroma of freshly-baked Sally Lunn bread emitting from the City Tavern would fill the busy shopping area as the citizens of Colonial Philadelphia went about their day-to-day business.
South Philly bakeries produce some of the finest Italian breads in the city. Lanci and Sarcone’s are my favorites.
But, until 20 years ago, it was impossible to find authentic artisan French loaves anywhere. On an autumn morning in 1993, Wendy Smith Born and James Barrett opened Metropolitan Bakery and set the standard for handmade French breads in our town. They met at the iconic White Dog Café where Barrett was the pastry chef. Barrett spent time in France where he mastered the technique of baking using an all-natural starter.
Several months ago, the duo opened Metropolitan Café adjacent to their Rittenhouse Square retail shop. It does not matter which section of the city one lives, Rittenhouse serves as a magnet in the springtime. If one doesn’t want to sip coffee and munch on a pastry in the park, he or she can sit down enjoy breakfast, lunch or a snack at Metropolitan Café.
The interior is done up in several shades of natural wood with plants, a community table and seating along the windows overlooking South 19th Street. The high metal chairs are comfortable and dot the space.
Orders are placed at the counter. Then a server brings out the meal. I have tried a number of treats at Metropolitan Bakery locations as well and the menu changes from time-to-time and according to the season.
Born and Barrett are sticklers for freshness and use and sell only local sustainable products.
I sometimes wonder how a specific vegetable, fish or ingredient all of a sudden becomes so popular that many restaurants start to serve them up. Brussels sprouts, kale, halibut, short ribs and chicken pot pie have been popping up on menus for a number of years.
Chicken pot pie ($8.75) was baked in an individual round soufflé up and arrived at my table piping hot. The homemade, flakey pastry was tender and buttery. I broke it with my fork, and steam emerged along with an aroma that wafted around me. Inside were bite-sized bits of chicken, fresh carrots, potatoes and baby spring peas. I swirled the contents around inside the ramekin to properly mix them with the rich, perfectly seasoned gravy, which is a hallmark of a properly made pot pie.
From the salads and snacks I selected beet and fennel salad with local assorted greens, pumpkin seeds and fresh creamy ricotta tossed in a blood orange vinaigrette ($8.75).
The local spring mix consisted of baby spinach, frisee, red oak and soft green lettuce. The addition of fennel added a bit of crunch and lovely licorice flavor, and it was fun to see how the beet juice turned the white strips of fennel into a rosy red hue. Cubes of cool, red roasted beets were strewn throughout the generous mound of greens, which paired well with bits of fresh ricotta cheese. The only problem I found was with the pumpkin seeds. I wish they were roasted and slightly salted as it would have pepped it up a notch. Blood oranges are in season and their slightly sweet yet acidic flavor added a fine touch when it was blended with olive oil.
I cannot say enough about Metropolitan’s croissants. Anyone who has breakfasted in France knows how they should taste. Metropolitan’s plain croissant ($2.55) is baked with layers of buttery, silky dough, which transported me back to Paris. I also like the chocolate and almond versions ($2.85) at teatime. Their walnut fudge brownies ($2.45) are so rich, can be share with ease.
Metropolitan Café serves Green Street Coffee ($1.75), which is dark and rich but never bitter.
Takeout is available at the adjacent bakery. I don’t know where my head was, but I forgot to pick up a sandwich loaf ($5.20-$6.30) for white, wheat or brioche as I left, especially since Passover was finally over.
Three tips of the toque to Metropolitan Café.
264 S. 19th St.
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