Brunch is, inarguably, my least favorite meal (*cue gay and millennial gasps of horror)- it’s ludicrously expensive and the food options are limited unless you love egg – which I don’t; however, a friend offered to treat me to a belated birthday brunch at one of Philadelphia’s famous Steven Starr restaurants – Talulas Garden.
Talula’s is known for using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients in their effort to be the model farm-to-table, modern American restaurant and the aesthetic matches the ethos. Diners enter through a casual, gated courtyard – dressed with simple wrought-iron tables and chairs – before entering the reception/main dining area which could best be described as turn-of-the-century botanist’s study. Delicate watercolor illustrations of various birds and plants, peppered with the daintiest vials of live plants, line the walls and adorable little florals sit, unobtrusively, on every table. The muted pinks and yellows and natural oak furnishings serve as an anesthetic to the jarring menu prices – but I wasn’t paying and my friend had a gift card so…Bon vivant!
The server (bright young woman who looked a bit like Tessa Thompson) came over to great us and take our drinks – one black coffee with creamer, a bottle of still water, a $10 glass of orange+carrot juice, and a pastry sampler of muffins, croissants, and danishes – before running down a list of the day’s brunch specials and menu items. If you’ll recall from earlier, I don’t like egg and the menu, like many brunch menus, was very egg-heavy; nevertheless, I zeroed in on the chicken+waffles, grits, and bacon. Reading the descriptions for my menu items had me hooked – a buckwheat waffle topped with spicy fried chicken covered in baked apples with a honey bourbon glaze and sea salt caramel butter grits. I am from the South and grew up eating grits several time a week and I have NEVER heard of sea salt caramel butter grits.
Conversation flowed easily as we waited for our food
“How’ve you been? What’s new with you? Any new or noteworthy men? *shade, catty remarks, raucous laughter etc. etc. etc.”
Finally, the main event. The food runner masterfully waltzed down cozy walkways between crowded tables, oblivious patrons, and fellow coworkers while balancing two armfuls of food without spilling a drop. Everything looked incredible. The sauces and glazes were clear and glossy, the chicken skin was crispy, the grits were steaming, my eyes were sparkling, and my mouth was watering.
I started with the grits because anyone who grew up eating grits knows you have to eat them while they’re hot, otherwise they turn into a cold, unsatisfying lump. If the sight and smell of the food sent me to heaven, the taste brought me back down to Earth. With a name like “sea salt caramel butter grits”, I expect to taste…salt. Instead, I tasted hot grits. When our server returned, the first thing I asked for was salt since it wasn’t on the table. I moved on to the chicken and waffles – crispy, juicy, fluffy, and bland. To be fair, the food wasn’t bad it just underwhelmingly seasoned. The honey bourbon glaze with the baked apples and syrup were so heavy and there was nothing to add any levity to the palette. Our server returned with the much needed salt and I’m pretty sure I used almost half the grinder. The grits came alive! The caramel suddenly had depth and the chives added something other than visual appeal!
My friend asked to try the chicken and waffles and had the same reaction.
“The skin is super crispy and the meat is juicy, but something is missing right?”
Even though I wasn’t paying for the meal, I still hate wasting food so I ate as much of the meal as I could before the check came. We both knew Talula’s was expensive, it’s a Steven Starr restaurant, but neither of us were prepared for a $95 bill BEOFRE adding tax and tip. Remember, only two people had brunch with no alcohol. The post meal conversation was a combination of us joking about the cost of the meal and my “discerning” (read nit picky) taste would be great for a blog about food, design, and lifestyle. So here we are, one season less and sober brunch later.