A Northern Liberties luncheonette cooks up bipartisan comfort food.
Honey's Sit 'n' Eat
800 N. Fourth St. 215.925.1150
Cuisine: Southern-Jewish Comfort
Hours: Tues.-Sun., 8am-4pm.
Atmosphere: Weathered, breezy, pretty.
Service: Nice during my visits, with rumors of hit-and-missedness.
Food: Improvable but visit-worthy meals from the hearty.
"Southern Jewish" is how the owners of Honey's Sit 'n' Eat describe the food at their NoLibs luncheonette. In practice, there's nothing wrong with the culinary concept. But in theory, well, it just seems kind of awkward, conjuring images of NASCAR-numbered mezuzahs or holiday sweaters embroidered with menorahs and dreidels.
Funny thing is, these images are exactly what Honey's isn't. Honey's is totally nonchalantly cozy-stylish. Dark Dutch doors and many-paned windows that open onto the sidewalk lead into its one-room dining area, which looks like it came from the Anthropologie catalog-or maybe Austin, Texas.
Pine planks salvaged from a circa-1860 Pennsylvania barn cover the floor. Unmilled beams from an old Brooklyn sewing factory top the counter, which is bordered by gingham-covered vintage stools gleaned from the basement of Old City's Snow White Diner. Weathered steel I-beams loom overhead.
Pre-Depression-era schoolhouse chairs reside beneath tables built by the owners. The salt and pepper shakers are tiny Mason jars. The entryway boasts floral wallpaper. And it's in Northern Liberties, for God's sake.
Somehow, bipartisan comfort fare fits in just fine here.
Honey's serves breakfast and lunch all day, which includes bagels and whitefish, or homemade biscuits with sausage gravy, and pastrami sandwiches on rye, or chicken fried steak with green bean casserole.
This last item, a small side spilling out of a ramekin, demonstrates Honey's potential for real sittin' and eatin' goodness. Owner Jeb Woody grew up on his mom's canned produce-based green bean casserole. Honey's whole foodsy rendition includes fresh-from-the-local-farm string beans, homemade cream of mushroom and a fried-to-order topping of sweet, crisp, petite Spanish onion rings that way transcend Durkee's.
The owners' favorite side is mac and cheese. During a recent visit, though, the little dish wasn't all that, despite its being made with four carefully double-broiled cheeses and whatnot. The elbow noodles bear pretty chunks of orange cheddar, but lack satisfying goo or density.
Potato salad is tangy. Its recipe hails from Mississippi and includes red bliss tubers, red wine vinegar and dill. Health salad consists of pickled cabbage, cucumbers, carrots and green tomatoes. Thick dill pickles and those tomatoes come from a neighbor who sells his wares to nearby Kaplan's Bakery, which supplies Honey's with challah.
Challah is made into French toast, and on weekends gets stuffed with seasonal fruit compote and usually sells out. Pancakes are airy, eggy, awesome and as big as Frisbees. Try 'em with berries and almonds or peanut butter chips and sliced bananas. The maple syrup is the real deal.
Eggs for thick omelets and tofu scrambles come from Amish farmers. The scramble looks and tastes healthful, with colorful green peppers, fresh tomatoes and red onions, which leech deliciously into the bottommost layer of a big pile of chunky, yummy fries.
More tempting breakfast add-ons: OJ squeezed in the upstairs prep kitchen, buttery drop biscuits and red pepper-spiced sausage patties whose outsides have been sweetened with brown sugar.
Still, there's room for improvement. Cornbread is ever so slightly on the bland side. So is chicken fried steak and country gravy, which needs an extra shake or two of salt and pepper. A crisp triangular latke-actually a cross between a potato pancake and a hash brown-is a tad greasy. Cumin-heavy vegetable latkes ought not be pretopped with sour cream, and the side of applesauce is over-cinnamon-and-sugared.
Woody admits his veggie burger-made with brown rice, hummus, sweet potatoes, fresh corn, mushrooms, peas and seasonal veggies-would be better if it didn't fall apart so readily. (Still, it's super tasty, especially when slid into a kaiser from Jersey's Hudson Bread.)
Chicken fingers dipped in egg and dredged in flour look like Texas-style thumbs. They're crisp outside and juicy in, served with homemade ranch and perfectly tart and sweet slaw of red onions and red cabbage.
A classic corned beef Reuben (almost all of Honey's deli meats also come from the neighborhood butcher, and the sandwiches are thoughtfully available in half sizes) is tasty, but could use more Russian dressing and sauerkraut. The matzo ball in the soup is a bit too firm, and the broth needs a little more rich, a little less sour.
But when it comes to the simple stuff like tuna melts, Honey's hits the mark. Two thick slabs of grilled-bottomed rye bread layered with not too wet, not too dry, not too celery- or seed-chocked tuna salad, big slices of summer tomatoes and plain and simple American cheese. Add a big plastic cup of tart lemonade, hum along to Johnny Cash, think of your bubbe in Alabama and you've got the picture.