It doesn't matter how lauded a chef is, or how loud the hype is surrounding the opening of a new restaurant, the way I decide if I'm going to check out a new restaurant is to look at the menu — and it better be available online!
So often it's the case that restaurants have one vegetarian appetizer and one vegetarian entree on their small and concentrated menus. Upon seeing that my dining choices are not a choice at all, I click the menu closed, and never think of the restaurant again.
Kennett, the new restaurant and bar that opened this past Saturday on 2nd St. in the previous home of Lyons Den in the Queen Village neighborhood, had me excitedly waiting for their opening because of their menu alone. The fact that the beautifully dark and casual upscale Kennett is a hop, skip, and jump from my home is also a perk.
Sure Kennett's vegetarian entree offerings of a veggie burger, risotto, and wood fired pizzas (pizzas aren't available just yet, but should be up and running in about two weeks) are pretty standard, but at least there are a few choices.
What really got me excited were their small plates.
With the exception of Brussels sprout and sunchoke with bacon, all of the small plates are vegetarian. The addition of pork to vegetables is a too-easy, flavor cop-out for uncreative chefs, in my opinion, and I hope Kennett continues showcasing vegetables' glory without the help of meat.
Kennett's small plates also show a bit of creativity, too. Roasted chickpeas in a yogurt sauce, braised butter beans on toast, red wine braised lentil salad, and roasted parsnips are a welcome sight to these arugula salad and french fry tired eyes.We were so happy to see a salad of kale chiffonade with candy-striped chioggia beets, roasted squash, and feta dressed in vinaigrette that we ordered two for the table. A perfect winter salad. We just love beets, so ordered the marinated beet and feta salad with dill, mint, chives, and parsley. Tangy vinegar and dill made these beets irresistible.Our server said to think of the roasted parsnips with Parmesan as french fries, but I need no convincing of this pale root's sweet roasted flavors. So simple, and so good.
A warm plate of roasted chickpeas in a mildly spiced paprika and citrus yogurt sauce was perfectly hardy and satisfying on a cold winter evening, and the sauce was plate-licking good. The house-made veggie burger of wheat berries, red beans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds has just enough spice to be interesting. The hefty patty is served on a toasted brioche bun with Thousand Island dressing, lettuce and thick-cut roasted red onions. A pickle and collards are included.
Those collards were the only thing I ate at Kennett that I did not like. Though they were cooked perfectly, they were braised with Bourbon, I believe, which added an additional bitterness to a green that can sometimes be bitter on it's own.A bit of a sticky toffee pudding fiend, I was not going to leave Kennett without their version of the British date cake covered with toffee sauce. Kennett's rendition gets a thumbs up and will be ordered again, but would get two thumbs up if they could make the by-no-means-dry cake even moister. I just like my sticky toffee pudding to be ooey-gooey.
I'll take this moment to comment on the professional, ever-smiling, and eager-to-please staff and front of the house at Kennett, because that's what they were, even on opening day.* All of our questions were answered, and our special requests were accommodated. And, in an overly generous gesture, we were offered on-the-house the other two desserts on the menu and a round of drinks when we waited a bit too long for the sticky toffee pudding, which was also comped.
I'll also take this moment to comment on the drinks at Kennett. They have 16 taps of mostly local and craft beers, and about an equal number of small and large bottle craft beers, as well as a thoughtful list of 25 wines by the glass. As a non-beer drinker, I'm always thrilled to see a good cocktail list, and Kennett has a great one — prohibition-themed cocktails developed by local bartender phenoms Phoebe Esmon and Christian Gaal. If you like ice cream, go for Kennett's bourbon and vanilla ice cream topped with dark chocolate almond bark. Although, I could not taste the bourbon, the vanilla ice cream was thick and rich.And if you like fruit or rich puddings, go for Kennett's honey drizzled parfait of raspberry jam with semolina and mascarpone pudding.
I am so, so, so happy to have Kennett as a new addition to my neighborhood. They blew me away with their simple yet creative vegetable small dishes, a great cocktail list, friendly staff, and comfortable but mature atmosphere. Except for the fact that I don't like collards that are bitter, there was not a single dish that did not impress me. And this was achieved on their opening night! Bravo.
*Did I mention that the staff of Kennett is friendly and eager to please? After I wrote up this post, I went back to take a picture of the outside of Kennett, and Kennett's managing partner, Johnny Della Polla (the same guy who stopped by our table at the beginning of the meal to make sure we were happy, and the same guy who comped us desserts and drinks), ran outside to introduce himself when he saw me taking pictures, even though he did not recognize me from the night before since I was bundled up in my coat and hat. Johnny then invited me inside Kennett for a little history lesson, where he proudly showed me the black and white photos of the Kennett family hanging on the barroom wall. I learned that the Kennett family ran the Kennett Cafe as a bar and restaurant from 1924-1986 — and even made moonshine in the basement in Prohibition days — at the same location that has once again been christened Kennett.
848 S. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19147