Six years ago, Divan Turkish Kitchen opened at 22nd and Carpenter streets. It was one of the first restaurants in the South of South neighborhood. Our delicious dinner ran the gamut from tempting mezze to lamb entrées. Divan’s congenial owner told us he did the construction work with his dad. He also proudly said Turkish cuisine is the finest in the world.
I would not go that far, but the foods of the Eastern Mediterranean are tasty when prepared properly, so I was surprised to read Divan was going to be turned into a gastro pub called SoWe. Does South Philly need another pub where beer reigns king when Turkish foods filled the culinary gap in South Philly?
My sister Sandy and I arrived around 6:30 on a balmy evening. Tables set outside were quickly filled. We ventured inside and were seated at a highly polished table for two in the bar area.
Our server told us SoWe stands for southwest because of its location. OK, that makes sense, but it is a strange name for a pub.
Allagash White ($6) is on tap and is a light, refreshing wheat beer that Sandy at first thought was lemonade because of its pretty yellow hue.
The menu is a friendly mix of appetizers, salads, a soup of the day, sandwiches and platters.
The roasted eggplant and yogurt dip appetizer ($7) looked like hummus and tasted like hummus. It did not impart the smoky flavor, which is the hallmark of this mezze. Still, we enjoyed it and smeared the creamy dip on fresh, warm pita bread triangles. Five thin English cucumber slices were also on the plate.
The grilled artichoke hearts ($8) were nicely done. There was a proper mix of olive oil and lemon juice that dressed them well. Baby and globe artichokes are in season now, so many restaurants are serving them. A few strips of roasted red peppers and a bit of Parmesan came with the appetizer.
From the salads, we selected roasted golden beets ($8.50), which was on the small side, but delivered a fine balance of flavor and texture. Yellow beets were roasted, cooled and sliced into bite-size pieces. A few haricot verts were scattered on the salad for color and crunch. We liked the use of lola rosa, a deep purple sturdy salad green that was a first for Sandy. Like the artichokes, the dressing was in perfect balance — a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, chopped hazelnuts and tangy Asiago cheese.
We saw burger after burger arriving in the dining room. A big, juicy, hefty burger pleases me in a pub. SoWe’s version ($11) did not disappoint. I think it was one of the best burgers in town. It arrived medium-rare topped with melted cheddar and strips of crisp thick-slab bacon on a soft, seeded bun. So many places skimp on the bacon but not at SoWe. We demolished a pile of hot, completely-free-of-grease, slightly-salty fries with ease.
The desserts need more attention. The chocolate mousse ($7) was warm, thin, runny and overly sweet. Neither Sandy nor I could eat it. Our server whisked it away and the hostess brought me complimentary mango and apricot sorbet, which hit the spot. It was not overly sweet, and was cool and refreshing. Four chocolate truffles were glorious and obviously homemade. The key lime tart ($6) imparted a grainy texture when it should be silky smooth. Sandy liked it better than I did.
Service was attentive yet took a bit of time because SoWe was doing a brisk business, inside and outside. It is catering to the neighborhood, which is growing with new construction, and bringing people into this part of South Philly that was once a culinary desert.
Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to SoWe. SPR
918 S. 22nd St.
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