Craft beer flows here, but stay for brunch.
French toast, Belgian waffles, pancakes: the brunch menu’s sweet triumvirate. I’ll order them in that order, often dissing a homegrown short stack in favor of its urbane Euro relatives. Call me a snob, but pancakes are just so hard to get right. While the formula is simple, attaining that harmony of fluffy interior and butter-crisped edges is anything but.
The brunch menu at Chris Fetfatzes and Heather Annechiarico’s cafe, Hawthornes, offers not only French toast and waffles but also beer—over 1,000 bottles, lined up like soldiers in a bank of tall glass refrigerators. Strawberry pancakes screamed, “pair me!” as I contemplated the morning menu with a mason jar full of Dark Horse Brewing’s velvet-smooth blueberry stout.
The pancakes—and the pairing—didn’t disappoint. Wide as the business end of a ping-pong paddle with a quarter-inch of lift, the buttermilk flapjacks arrived triple-stacked. There was butter. There was syrup (always maple and occasionally fortified with Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter). There were sighs of contentment—and surprise, because Hawthornes’ menu doesn’t drip with Nutella or glitter with crystallized ginger, candied kumquats and creative specials. Sabrina’s this ain’t. So why spend Sunday morning here?
I mentioned the 1,000 bottles of beer, right?
Annechiarico and Fetfatzes, whose parents own Bella Vista Beer Distributor across the street, curate a serious craft collection—one whose price point has received some curmudgeonly gripes from local witerati. To which I say: Don’t front. Before Hawthornes opened in November, where else in South Philly could you get a mix-a-six so royal it included a Duchesse (de Bourgogne) and a king (Midas Touch)? I’d gladly pay more (though clearly listed prices on the bottles would be nice) just to not have to haul ass to the Foodery every other week.
For the hopheads, hungover hipsters and beer reps on their days off, Hawthornes has streamlined its buying process. At the outset, you had to pay for the beer separately at the counter. Now, you give the cashier your table number (conveniently taped to the wood tables) and a scanner gun adds the beers to your check.
The café is especially cozy on clear mornings, when the sun rises over the green roofs of rehabbed Bella Vista rowhomes and pours in like butterscotch through broad front windows. The light caught my cup of Cantillon Geuze, intensifying the lip-smacking Belgian’s hazy gold glow, illuminating the unfiltered yeast collecting in the bottom of the mason jar like shipwrecked treasure.
Fetfatzes and Annechiarico are omnipresent, offering tasting notes and recommendations, and the staff benefits from daily “Beer 30” sessions during which random bottles are popped, sipped and discussed. They know their shit just as chef Justin Poole knows his shit on a shingle. Hawthornes shows the S-O-S the R-E-S-P-E-C-T it rarely receives with beef cured, air-dried and chipped in-house and cream sauce so full-bodied they rightly call it bechamel.
Beer might be the main attraction, but the straightforward, well-executed items like the creamed chipped beef hold up their end of the bargain. Annechiarico puts it best: “Good home-cooked food, like you would cook at your house, only we do it for you.” Inlaid with sliced hearts of strawberry, those pancakes were breakfast valentines. A cheese plate featured Monte Enebro, a wildly creamy Spanish goat cheese I spread all up on a chewy, seed-encrusted everything bagel from West Philly’s Four Worlds Bakery. The only dish I didn’t love was the poached huevos smothered in tomato and black bean salsas, cheddar and sour cream and propped up on tostadas that quickly grew mushy under the south-of-the-border bulk.
Not to worry: The memory was easily healed by the eternally smiling service and my bandages of Gueuze. Bemoan the prices of the beer if you like—vetting the stock, I found plenty of bottles for in the $3 to $5 range—but the food is far cheaper that what’s offered at other neighborhood brunch joints. I polished off the last of those pancakes and channeled my inner menopausal Voorhees divorcee. Time to shop. ■
For more on Philly's food scene, visit blogalicious-adam.blogspot.com.■
Dinner with Luke Palladino