Square Peg

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Apr. 5, 2012

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Center City strollers craving large portions can add Square Peg as a place to enjoy a hearty lunch or dinner.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Famous quotations and sayings are among a writer’s best friends. Many come from Shakespeare and the Bible. We are familiar with the adage “can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.” I wondered where the saying comes from since Square Peg is the name of a new restaurant near Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Edward Bulwer Lytton coined the metaphor in the late 19th century. It conjures up an image of a person who dares to be different.

One chef who dares to be different is Matt Levin. I gave him high accolades when he was executive chef at LaCroix at the Rittenhouse. His creativity and use of farm fresh ingredients never failed in dish after dish. Now he is at the helm at Square Peg. I wondered what he had up his culinary sleeve.

After a long day of shopping, Sandy and I nipped into Square Peg. The place has a warm welcoming neighborhood feel. Square Peg was packed at 6 p.m. but we were fortunate to get a table for two. There’s a long bar, two televisions, a large, exposed brick wall and comfortable banquettes.

I sipped a Rob Roy ($13.83) and was immediately wowed by Levin’s down-home menu of comfort foods. Chau, our delightful server, answered our questions and we made our selections.

Tacos in a bag ($10.50) was a whimsical way of serving carnitas and corn chips. Levin took an individual bag of Fritos and placed tasty shreds of tender, juicy pork on top of the chips. He topped the pork with chopped scallions and queso crema. Some shredded iceberg lettuce was placed in a large bowl with the chips. Sandy and I dove in and immediately fell in love. Carnitas was a first for her, so now I can tempt her with my version at home.

Grilled romaine ($9) consisted of two large hearts of crisp, fresh romaine, which hit the grill and then the large plate. Levin called the dressing, which was drizzled on the plate, onion caramel. The smoky aroma and flavor of the romaine pleased our taste buds. Fortunately for me, I had dibs on the large frico that came with the salad since Sandy does not care for it.

Next up was a large platter of fish and chips ($16), which would have delighted even the most finicky Englishman. Levin used scrod, or baby cod, that was dipped in a malt batter and crispy fried to a deep golden brown. The fish was sweet, succulent and tender inside. It flaked beautifully on the fork and was not one bit overcooked. The pile of French fries was equally as flavorful. They came slightly salted and we had a bit of trouble finishing them. Portions at Square Peg are most generous.

There is a fine selection of sides ($5) on the bill of fare. The roasted cauliflower aroused my interest. Bite-size bits of cauliflower were topped with lemon juice, sesame seeds and sumac and served at room temperature.

“It’s like a cauliflower salad,” Sandy said.

Both of us recommend it.

You cannot miss dessert ($7) at Square Peg. Chocolate pudding pie is not a pie. Levin’s sense of whimsy also was evident here. Deep, bittersweet chocolate pudding, prepared in the French manner, was placed into a small Mason jar with layers of pretzel dust which served as the crust. It was bittersweet and salty, just like I prefer. As a girl, I would dip salty pretzels into chocolate ice cream. Levin’s pudding is second to none.

Service was excellent although two servers felt the need to talk incessantly, which I find extremely annoying. I did not want to hear descriptions of the dishes as they were placed on the table. Chau, our server, did not do this, however. A woman next to me was dining alone. All she wanted to do was enjoy her meal and read her newspaper.

Square Peg is open for lunch and dinner. I hope to drop by for soup and half a sandwich ($12) the next time I am in the neighborhood.

Three tips of the toque to Square Peg. SPR

Square Peg

929 Walnut St.

Contact the South Philly Review at

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Uncklejason said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 02:36PM

“Chau is the new Janna*


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2. Edward said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 03:10PM

“12-step Tim said: “When a Rob Roy costs $13.83, I think it's time to stop drinking.”

Ha ha. Oh, ho ho! Harumphy dumphy doo dah! Oh, please, Tim. When Phyllis pulls the coffin closed on me and Sandy sheds a sorrowful tear, THAT'S the time to stop drinking. ROFLMAO.”

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3. Marty Medals said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 03:36PM

“Rob Roy, gotta have a Rob Roy.

$13.83? How does a chef come up with that price? Is the $0.83 the cost of washing the glass?

AT least it was cheaper than at La Calaca Feliza and not $14.00 like at Estia. But it was only $13.50 at Il Pittore.
Question, have you ever had a bad Rob Roy?
Just asking.”

Based on the prices you quote above you and Sandy spent $51.33 plus tax and tip (you did leave a tip I hope).
Way out of the league for over 90% of the readers of the Review for a lunch.

Now had you gone to the Broad Street Diner lunch would have been an affordable $15.00. Of course, no Rob Roy's!

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4. Pearce said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 04:46PM

“Not a place I'd try; liquor very pricey; food adequate.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Apr 5, 2012 at 04:56PM

“If Marty Medals had his way, from down there in Florida, we would only see reviews of the Broad Street diner, then the Penrose, then the Melrose, and then back to the Broad Street. Maybe the Oregon once a year too. The guy's cheap. No wonder he lives down there.”

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6. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Apr 7, 2012 at 08:55AM

“Dear Readers:

This column is a RESTAURANT REVIEW. 98% is a critique of the food. The rest is service, atmosphere, spirits list.

Square Peg is a delightful moderately priced restaurant. In fact, families can feel comfortable here. When Sandy and I visited, there were several children having dinner with their parents.

By the way, Sandy loves all vegetables, except lima beans. I detest them, too.”

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7. WashWestmom said... on Apr 7, 2012 at 10:06AM

“Phyllis: Thanks for your review. Square Peg's food is fine. Just wish restaurant wasn't in this neighborhood. It's not a place where neighborhood regulars, especially those with families, would want to dine weekly--unless, of course, fried fattening food poses no health concern to them. Matt Levin's food is more akin to Paula Deen than Jaime Oliver. Then again, perhaps that's what most Philadelphians want.”

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8. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Apr 7, 2012 at 02:41PM

“Dear WashWest Mom:

The majority of Philadelphians, including myself, would never eat Paula Deen's food. Loaded with artificial ingredients, sugar, salt, processed, etc. Levin uses fresh ingredients and many of the dishes are not deep fried. The pork carnitas, grilled romaine, cauliflowewr side dish were tops with us.

I never prepare fried fish and French fries at home. I never fry anything. So once in a while, I like fish & chips but would never make a habit of it.

As for as Wash West...where do you & your family like to dine out?”

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9. WashWestmom said... on Apr 7, 2012 at 03:25PM

“Obviously, this is a matter of taste, but I tried the cauliflower on two separate occasions. Delicious except both times it left some strange aftertaste. Grilled romaine was great too, but that's the only "fresh"-sounding salad on the menu. Innovative, yes. But heavily dressed--and grilled. There's something to be said for fresh vegetables being fresh. The falafel was great too, but unless it's baked, it's not something we're going to want to eat often. One of our kids had the french toast. Again, delicious. But we couldn't shake the feeling that we were allowing them to have dessert for dinner. Not a bad thing once in a while, but not a place where we want to go all the time. (The chicken fingers didn't rate as well with the three kids at our table, and the buttered noodles had the same kind of aftertaste as the cauliflower.) As where we like to dine out, Marathon Grill was a true "neighborhood" restaurant. Kanella is great, as is Le Pain Quotidien.”

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10. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Apr 8, 2012 at 11:23AM

“I love Kanella. Finest Greek restaurant in the city. Must try the weekend brinch.”

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11. WashWestmom said... on Apr 11, 2012 at 09:57AM

“Have you written about any family-friendly restaurants in Washington Square West or neighboring communities?”


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