I'm not from Texas, and I've never eaten Texas barbecue, but that don't matter, 'cause I'm not here for the barbecue at Percy Street. I'm here for the sides!
I have eaten sides at a few real Texas barbecue joints, but it was so long ago that it might as well have never happened. So, this will not be a "this ain't how they do it in Texas" review of chef Michael Solomonov and Erin O'Shea's recreation and interpretation of Texas barbecue.
A bar slinging whiskey cocktails will greet you at the door, and then Percy Street opens up to a rustic, large open space with long wood tables for larger parties, and brown easy-to-wipe pleather-topped two tops. Two large menu blackboards are hung on rolling doors, and ample light shines through the wall of front windows in the daytime.
A roll of paper towels are brought to the table so you can help yourself to all the napkins you want. Fill up your glass from a large jar of water brought to the table, as well.
Percy Street gives a nod to vegetarians and vegans with a vegan chili on the menu, but unfortunately not all of their veggie sides, which come in cup or bowl size, are vegetarian.
Vegetarian: vegan chili, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, chopped salad, and green bean salad.
Not vegetarian: root beer chili, pinto beans, German potato salad, collard greens, and black eyed pea salad.
We got everything that was fit to eat, except for the green bean salad, which is only available at dinner. Also, note that collards are also only available at dinner. Not sure why they don't offer the entire menu all day, since the menu is pretty short, but they don't.
Mac and cheese is the lone side that does not come in both cup and bowl size, so if you want some mac and cheese you're just gonna have to pony up for the larger bowl size. The hot croc of crumb-topped, cheesy, greasy mac and cheese is good, and will make most happy, but nothing makes this restaurant-style mac and cheese stand out from all the others around town. Props for using macaroni noodles, though.
The mayo-based cabbage and carrot coleslaw gets better as you eat it down; the bottom of the cup marinates longer in the dressing and is more flavorful than the top. A little umpf from maybe a tad more acid or sugar might brighten up the whole thing from top to bottom, but not a disagreeable coleslaw at all.
A soupy stew of black beans, seitan, carrots, and tomatoes is spiced with chili powder, and besides being slightly salty, is a fine chili, but no better than most chilis I've sampled at friend's house parties. I never even considered ordering the chopped salad, but my partner did, and this dish turned out to be my favorite despite being topped with two of the worst deviled eggs I've had in recent memory — filling was strangely silky, like pure mayonnaise without the grainy texture and body the cooked egg yolk provides that's normally added back in, and way too salty. But underneath those deviled eggs is a melange of black beans, lettuce, shredded carrots, red onions, avocado, and scallions smothered in a creamy buttermilk dressing spiked faintly with dill. If you like macaroni salad (hi!), you'll love Percy Street's chopped salad.
And, you know the real reason I was at Percy Street was to try the banana pudding, don't ya? So good, yet so disappointing. The vanilla pudding is gourmet, luscious and brimming with vanilla bean flecks, but at the bottom of the cup there is only one soft wafer (maybe two?), and only one or two banana slices. It's like making Tiramisu with only one Lady Finger. Such a tease. Props, though, for adding the two Nilla wafers to the top before serving, so they're still crunchy. Even with the pudding component being so great, I don't think I'd order the banana pudding again.
When it was all said and done I enjoyed the food and atmosphere of Percy Street, but felt I was eating at just another sleek Philly restaurant. There's something missing from the experience and food that doesn't resonate barbecue house. Missing homespun, from-the-heart character, maybe? The food's fine, but it ain't got no soul.
Percy Street Barbecue
900 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
Lunch: Sat and Sun, 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Sun-Thurs, 5-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11pm, bar til 2am