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
929 Walnut St.
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