Half an hour into my nearly-90-minute wait for a table—around the time that most of us consider either getting up to leave or having a full-body freakout—I remember thinking to myself: This is the best brunchtime holding pattern I’ve ever been in. The big glass of Summer Kolsch certainly helped, as did the newly enlarged and raised fireplace. But more than that, it was the overall feel of the restaurant, the attitude that seemed to define every interaction I had both with the staff and the other customers.
Too often, the waiting areas of our local bruncheries feel disconcertingly like being packed into a too-small elevator when it gets stuck between floors. The team behind Hawthornes realized this, and, when they did some remodeling of that fireplace this past autumn, they kept it in mind. So between the crackling of the logs and the living-room-comfy couches and chairs surrounding it—my daughter actually fell asleep for half an hour as we waited—they’ve made the time before you’re seated less like the purgatory it too often feels like, and more like a pre-meal hangout that you actually want to stick around in.
However long you’re on the list, it’s worth the wait. The food here finds a delicate balance between the sort of morning comfort most of us require, and a kind of flavor-driven ambition that sets it apart.
French toast—really more of a thrice-cooked bread pudding—is a standout. Tucked inside the crisp edges is a dense-yet-light center that’s silky with a bit of every sort of bread the kitchen uses here: brioche, challah, multigrain and more. It’s hearty and elegant all at once, and calls out for a side of some sort of meat. (I’d go with the sausage, all snappy-cased and tender, over the thick-cut bacon, which could have been crispier.)
Other standards are just as carefully crafted, the waffles light and nutty, the omelets delicate, moist, and flavorful with ingredients that have actually been treated as integral parts of the whole as opposed to merely stuffing: Mushrooms and peppers had been sauteed, for example, as opposed to having been dumped in there raw. “All of our ingredients should hold up on their own,” Chris Fetfatzes, who owns Hawthornes with Heather Annechiaricho, told me. They do.
The kitchen here also has the ability to lift standards into a whole new realm. A recent pancake special—there’s a new one every week—saw the flapjacks bright with Meyer lemon’s perfume and topped by a beautifully turned out blueberry compote, its own sweetness tempered by vanilla- and almond-scented cream cheese. Welsh rarebit, too often looked at as some sort of old-school throwaway, is here shown to be the brunchtime standard it should be: The toasted baguette absorbs whatever poison from the night before might still be swimming around in your gut, the eggs over-easy soothe, the cheesy beer sauce coats. If we all ate more of Hawthornes rarebit after a night out, this would be an infinitely kinder, gentler city to live in.
For the less hungover, there is the “crabby dick,” a generous riff on crab Benedict, featuring a crab cake cosseted between the halves of a cloud-like brioche, crowned with eggs, and anointed with a softly spicy hollandaise. The panko crust of the crab breaks up the otherwise velvet texture of it all, and the entire construct, while a serious commitment, is worth the effort. Not that you need an excuse, but this particular dish really calls out for a beer from the massive selection in the bottle shop or the draught lines.
Hawthornes, then, has pulled off the difficult trick of making itself into a true standout brunch spot, no matter where in the city you live. The portions are generous, the beer excellent and the service exceptionally friendly and accommodating.
Later that night, as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I still smelled the smoke from the fireplace in her hair. It was a lovely reminder of a brunch that surprised and charmed me on every level, and almost enough to make me feel bad about eating her leftover waffles and sausage for dinner after she was in bed for the night.
Almost. But not quite. Eight hours after brunch, they were still excellent.
728 S. 11th St. 215.627.36012. hawthornescafe.com
Cuisine type: Deceptively
Hours: Breakfast and lunch: Mon.–Fri., 9am–4pm. Dinner: Mon., 5–9pm, Tues.–Sat., 5–10pm. Weekend: Sat., 9am–4pm, Sun., 9am–3pm and lunch until 5pm.
Price range: $2.50-$15.
Atmosphere: Warm and welcoming; the newly prominent fireplace is phenomenal.
Food: Thoughtful and well-executed.
Service: Accommodating, helpful, and knowledgeable about the menu and beer.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014