While surfing the Internet last week, I happened upon a gastropub called Strangelove’s. I often wonder how a restaurant gets christened and I immediately did some research.
The kitchen is in the capable hands of executive chef Paul Martin, a native of Louisiana whose tasty dishes I enjoyed when he was at the helm at Catahoula’s. Since New Orleans fare is on the menu, I wanted to take a culinary trip down south.
I confess I could not get the image of Peter Sellers out of my mind when Edward and I slid onto comfortable bar stools and discussed the moderately-priced menu.
The bi-level restaurant is located on South 11th Street where a few places came and went. Simple wood tables, soft lighting and a television for Phillies viewing emit a comfortable atmosphere.
Since bourbon is king in the American South, I decided to try my first Maker’s Mark Manhattan ($9). It imparted a smoky flavor and aroma that I liked. Edward sipped a Bluecoat martini ($10), and our delightful dinner began.
Conch fritters ($4) took me back to a warm winter day in Key West when I sampled them for the first time. Conch are found in the warm waters of the Atlantic from Florida down to the Bahamas. Martin chops them, fashions them into the size of a golf ball and fries them to a golden brown. A delicious remoulade sauce was a fine foil for the mild conch flavor.
Pimento cheese ($7) is a clear example of fine Southern hospitality. It is served throughout the South as a prelude to dinner. It is made with orange cheddar cheese, so don’t let the color fool you. It is not Velveeta. Softened cream cheese, a bit of hot sauce and the necessary dash of Lea & Perrins makes this spread uncommonly delicious. It is served with saltine crackers below the Mason-Dixon Line but Martin offers homemade pickled vegetables and warm toasty French bread. The pimento cheese is packed into a Mason jar and the lid serves as the vessel for fine pickled carrots, okra, tiny beets and green beans. With this in life, nothing is bad.
The duck gumbo ($9) was so expertly made, I wanted to make my way into Martin’s kitchen and ask if I could watch him prepare it. I received a big, white bowl filled with a roux, which looked like melted, dark chocolate. Martin does not use tomatoes and okra in his gumbo. Shreds of juicy tender duck, packed with flavor; married with spicy Andouille sausage; the holy trinity of peppers, celery and onion; and finely-sliced scallions made this one of the most satisfying restaurant moments in recent memory. I also liked that Martin hit the right note with the hot and spicy flavors. This gumbo had depth and character.
Gazpacho ($6) may appear out of sync at Strangelove’s, but Martin has included vegetarian and vegan options on his menu. The tomatoes were pureed into a rich sauce and thinned with a bit of stock. Some grated cucumbers floated on top, adding a little crunch.
Strangelove’s is home to some of the finest craft beers offered in the city. Edward and I shared a pint of Duet ($5) that is brewed just for the restaurant.
Fried okra ($5) can be tricky. Although the batter was beautifully seasoned, it slid off the okra as we munched. It still tasted good.
The fried shrimp po’boy ($14) comes with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and classic remoulade sauce. The ingredients were piled into a soft French roll and served with homemade potato chips. I wondered if Martin used wild Gulf shrimp because their slightly sweet flavor made my taste buds sour. They were crisp outside, and still toothsome inside.
The Southern theme continues at Strangelove’s if you (and you must) order dessert. Lemon ice box pie ($7) was light, cool and refreshing. It is baked in a chocolate cookie crust, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of fresh Jersey blueberries.
Service was excellent throughout dinner. Strangelove’s was quite busy and I was not surprised one bit. Owners Brendan Kelly, Leigh Maida and Brendan Hartranft are dedicated to presenting fine craft beers and marvelous dishes prepared with local in-season ingredients at very moderate prices. Martin’s solid fare also would bring me for return visits.
Three-and-a-half tips of the toque to Strangelove’s.
216 S. 11th St.
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