The brunch experts expand to South Street, and our hangovers are better for it.
Sequels are rarely as good as the original. Sure, there are exceptions — The Dark Knight, Before Sunset, Justin Timberlake’s post-N’Sync career — but in general, follow-ups tend to fall short. This is especially true with restaurants, particularly beloved ones, where the owners often try too hard to capture the ineffable magic that set the original apart.
So, when I first walked into the new Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat, on the 2100 block of South Street, I was prepared to take a mental inventory of all that had been cynically copied and stage-managed in an effort to recreate the magic of its NoLibs sibling.
I was prepared, but I failed. Because the thing is, it works. Not always in the same way as the original, but it’s an unambiguous success nonetheless, and often on its own terms.
First, the similarities. The food on South Street shares the same DNA as the original, the same menu of comforting, fairly priced classics and riffs. The potato latkes remain addictive: With apologies to certain family members who shall remain nameless here, Honey’s thick-crusted, moist-centered latkes are what I fantasize about when dutifully gnashing through my desultory plateful of oil-bombs at the annual Hanukkah party.
Eggs, as always, are done impeccably, from the simple to the baroque. Order them sunny-side-up, and the whites arrive crisp-edged and nutty, anchored by yolks that jiggle lasciviously, almost flirtatiously. Scrambled and rolled into tortillas, they serve as the sponge for accompanying flavors of salsa verde, red onions, pureed black beans and the rest, rounding out those components and somehow amplifying them. Scrambled, stuffed into a biscuit sandwich and given greater properties of unhealthfulness with the addition of breakfast meat, they become a dietician’s worst nightmare and a hangover’s best friend.
Speaking of hangovers, an occasional special of macaroni and cheese pancakes justifies overindulging the night before just so that these shockingly airy miracles can be the next morning’s salvation. What by all logic should be boulder-in-the-stomach gluten boluses are in fact remarkably elegant despite the richness of their flavor. The Honey Cristo works in a similar fashion, the subtly sweet French toast balanced out with smoke-kissed ham and nutty Swiss cheese, two eggs staring out on top and imploring you to tuck in.
And, of course, there is the selection of sides and nonbrunch entrees that, as always, overachieve. Of course you want Brussels sprouts in the morning, especially when they arrived all glistening from the grease of well-rendered bacon. And of course you’ll want a reuben chimichanga because ... well, it’s a reuben chimichanga, for heaven’s sake.
Still, this new outpost is no blind copy of the original. And while the shabby-charming comfort of the first is hard not to love, this one is airier, filled with more light. Generous plate-glass windows up front allow plenty of sunshine to filter throughout the high-ceilinged space, casting a Klieg-like glow, especially at the tables up front, upon the well-curated collection of old industrial tools displayed beneath the glass topping the tables: They look kind of like an interior designer’s dioramas, displaying the metal and wood beauty of objects that were created for strictly utilitarian purposes: Drills, cutting implements, and more are in this context rendered gorgeous.
And then there’s the issue of its kid-friendliness: This one is more so than the original. Much of this is a result of the larger space itself: It’s easier to accommodate strollers and all their inevitable gear in this bigger room. But that’s not all of it. The staff here just seems a bit mellower in that regard, a bit more understanding that trooping the family out to a meal together—even a highly casual one like this—involves its own inherent stresses. And they tread gently as a result, maintaining a sense of friendliness and understanding even when milk gets spilled or a buoy of bacon flies overboard like one of those unfortunate deckhands on the Deadliest Catch.
This, then, is one of those rare sequels that has improved on a number of aspects of its inspiration, maintained a sense of respect for what worked (and continues to work) at the justifiably beloved original, and is set to solidify its own identity without straying too far from the inspiring spark. It’s the Godfather: Part II of the city’s dining scene right now, and we’re all the luckier for it.
2101 South St. 215.732.5130. honeysitneat.com
Cuisine type: Comfort food, with particular love lavished on breakfast and brunch.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 7am-10pm; Sun., 7am-5pm.
Price range: $3.50-$12.95 (breakfast and brunch).
Atmosphere: Urban-industrial and airy.
Food: As satisfying, well-wrought, and hangover-curing as the original.
Service: Welcoming and well-tailored to the concept.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014