Red Owl Tavern

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Nov. 15, 2012

Share this Story:

Red Owl Tavern is an American eatery located across from Independence Hall in Old City.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Edward celebrated his birthday the day before Election Day. Since it fell on a Monday, we had a devil of a time finding a restaurant that was open. We read through the Zagat Guide and every place that caught our attention was closed.

About a month ago, Edward walked by the new Hotel Monaco near Independence Hall and brought home a menu from Red Owl Tavern. Sandy found it and our decision was made.

Red Owl Tavern is a bi-level open space that is very dark. I do not like eating in the dark. The downstairs bar and dining area was filled, so we trotted up a long flight of stairs and were seated in a wooden booth. Because of the severe lack of light, the only thing I can tell you about the décor is it featured lots of dark wood.

That said, we ordered drinks and desperately tried to read the menu. Even our delightful server told us she has trouble seeing the computer.

Picked vegetables ($8) consisted of a small glass jar with a few inedible roasted beets, a bit of carrots and a string bean or two. There was way too much vinegar used in the brine although the roasted eggplant spread, which arrived in a tiny ramekin was OK. It came with toasted pita bread.

Bone marrow has become the darling of the restaurant scene but it rarely sates the appetite. Red Owl Tavern’s version ($9) consisted of a large, almost Flintstonian bone with a bit of tasty marrow here and there with capers, shallots and pickled lamb’s tongue. I didn’t think these ingredients added anything to the dish.

Four types of mussels were offered and I chose the house-made chorizo ($18) because two others were made with cream or coconut milk. I received a cast-iron pot filled with mussels, dry chunks of sausage, caramelized onions and red peppers. The sauce was at the bottom so it took a while for me to find the mussels and chorizo. I tasted it and realized it was laced with coconut milk. The ingredient was not listed in this variety of mussels. The dish was removed from the bill.

Our entrées fared a wee bit better. Along with bone marrow and Brussels sprouts, chicken pot pie is popping up everywhere. Edward loved the pot pie at Santucci’s a few weeks ago so he ordered it. This version ($14) was made with puff pastry, which is not a fine culinary shortcut when making this classic warming dish. Although there were bits of chicken, carrots and peas in the pie, the creamy sauce congealed as we ate it and tasted like glue.

Sandy actually liked the short ribs ($20). They were served on the bone, which added flavor but the spicy ketchup topping detracted from the overall taste. A few red peppers were strewn on the plate.

My braised and roasted lamb shank ($24) was on the scrawny side. A tablespoon of dark, undercooked lentils sat on the plate although the menu states yellow lentils were to be used in the entrée.

Vegetables are a la carte. Asparagus ($7) were pencil thin and probably air shipped from Peru. They were roasted and lacked flavor. We nixed the balsamic glaze because the red light went on immediately as soon as I saw the vinegar on the menu description.

Honestly, the only good thing about Red Owl Tavern was our server. Not one dish impressed my taste buds. Fortunately for us, Edward and I celebrated our wedding anniversary Nov. 8 with a brilliant dinner at Sbraga. It immediately erased every dark moment from Edward’s birthday dinner.

One tip of the toque to Red Owl Tavern.

Red Owl Tavern

433 Chestnut St.


Contact the South Philly Review at

Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 8 of 8
Report Violation

1. Anonymous said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 07:37PM

“You're tipping your toque to this place? That seems to go against the review. Or do you have a toque for each of the diners and Sandy and Edward declined to tip theirs?

I'm confused...”

Report Violation

2. murray said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 10:25PM

“I read your review every week. Sometimes I think to generous or stingy with your tip of the toque. Tjis one didn't make sense. It seemed that just about evrything your party ate has detracting issues or problems. Nice server but 1 toque - should have been less acknowledging good service.

Report Violation

3. sam said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 05:24AM

“Yes. But how many toques are there? That's a useless measure without some sort of rating scale.”

Report Violation

4. Lydia said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 07:32AM

“Maybe she could say "one tip of the toque out of six" or whatever the maximum number is. I have no idea what she means now.”

Report Violation

5. Kelly said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 09:18AM

“I was disappointed that you only gave them 1 out of 3 toques. I live in South Philly and I recently ate here for lunch with a group and the food was incredible. I had the open face Salmon sandwich. My only issue was that the menu didn't say that it was open face. All in our group were more than satisfied and it was a good price for a center city lunch. We will be going back soon and I expect that we will need reservations at some point because it's a happening place.”

Report Violation

6. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:53AM

“It looks like everybody is confused. Why isn't there a rating scale at the top of the review?”

Report Violation

7. sam said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:01AM

“I found it! Here's the rating scale from two reviews ago:

Restaurant Review:
∞ = Poor
∞ ∞ = Fair
∞ ∞ ∞ = Very Good
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ = Extraordinary

So this place gets 1 out of 4 toques. Why do the readers have to do research in order to understand the reviewer????!

Report Violation

8. Happy Rooster regulars said... on Nov 16, 2012 at 09:00PM

“Happy Birthday, Edward, from all of us at the Happy Rooster!”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)


Blizzard Dream Food

Hungry Pigeon

The Olde Bar

Mustard Greens

Abe Fisher

Butcher and Singer

New Year Trends and Wishes