Munk & Nunn

The Main Street Manayunk spot is ill-conceived.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Aug. 3, 2010

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Ho-hummus: An abundance of garlic almost ruined the dish.

Photo by Michael Persico

Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares may be one of the great guilty pleasures of my week, but it became apparent recently that experiencing confrontation in a troubled restaurant from the comfort of my couch and being subjected to it in person are very different things.

Restaurateur, chef and Manayunk mainstay Tom Konidaris expanded his old standby Zesty’s with the more bar-food Munk & Nunn this spring. After some tweaking, highlights of the old Zesty’s menu found their way onto the more eclectic menu of Munk & Nunn.

Sadly, despite all the work on the space and on the food, the enterprise is still mired in the sort of problems that, if not remedied quickly, could very well cause the bell to toll for this perplexing and vaguely abbeylike space.

The decor is It’s a Small World proto-European and the wine list is riddled with misspellings. The menu is inspired, it seems, by the cuisine of the fantastical borderland between Greece, Belgium and Italy. Continental is one thing; nonsensical is another.

The meal was bookended by highlights: Warm house-baked bread that greeted us—chewy and yeast-sweet—and a pleasant, creamy (and purchased) lemon cheesecake that saw us off.

But in the middle much was amiss, and much went against the laws of dining nature as our creator-god of restaurants—some sort of great Gordon in the sky, perhaps—intended it.

Even with the dishes that made sense geography-wise, execution proved to be an Achilles’ heel: Greek-style baklava, for example, tasted as if it had been sitting around in a fridge or freezer for a few days getting mugged by an angry cinnamon stick, and had attained a texture more cake-like than phyllo-crisp.

The menu itself was a perplexing mishmash of cultural references, influences and cuisines, and many of the constituent dishes were just not prepared particularly well. Jamaican jerk “Nunn Wings” were plump and moist, but the dusting of jerk seasoning was desultory at best, and the side cup of sweet-and-sour sauce tasted as if it had come directly from a jar (turns out, upon further investigation, that the base of it did).

As for the three-cheese margherita flatbread, the dough was well-considered and blistered in all the right places, but the toppings were brought low by a sauce that tasted unpleasantly like little more than sweetened and warmed-through tomato paste.

Hummus was our only redeeming starter, and though the near-overabundance of raw garlic in the rough puree came close to throwing off its sense of balance, there was an honesty and exuberance to the dish that was missing from so much else.

Entrees, too, were underconceived and sloppily prepared. Steak frites, ordered medium rare, arrived overdone and underseasoned. The frites, nearly as thick as a baby’s wrist, were far too filling and mealy to eat more than a few. Moussaka possessed virtually none of the layering of flavors or sense of detail that a well-crafted one should: Eggplant, zucchini, ground beef, lamb and béchamel formed a homogenous hunk on the plate, each bite the same narrow range of muddied flavors as the last.

Moist, grilled whole dorado could have been a highlight had it been seasoned more aggressively: The occasional funky snap of caper was not enough to rescue this fish from a similarly boring fate.

Only the lamb burger stood out; while the meat itself leaned precariously close to dry, its pleasantly gamy flavor was balanced out by a sweet-ish tzatziki and the fresh zip of sliced red onions.

Then it happened. None of us had finished our entrees, and the waitress, as expected, asked if everything was OK. We assured her that it was: It was hot out and difficult to eat a lot, we weren’t going to be home the next day so wrapping up the leftovers wasn’t necessary, etc.

She got a pained look on her face and informed us that the chef wouldn’t be happy. And it was no more than a minute after she left our table with the half-eaten dishes before he appeared with a look on his face somewhere between utter disbelief and flat-out pissed off and proceeded to badger us about our lack of appetite.

You didn’t like my food? Be honest with me. You can tell me. What was wrong with the food? You didn’t want to eat everything? Conversation—and the evening itself—came to a screeching halt.

He eventually sulked away from the table after an uncomfortable minute-long interaction, but it was the bizarre coup de grâce of a night that had been on life support from the moment we walked in.

Next time, I think I’ll just stay home. Kitchen nightmares are far more fun from the comfort of my couch.

Munk & Nunn
4382 Main St.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. mv said... on Aug 3, 2010 at 10:55PM

“Does anyone like this new guy? I read the comments from the last few weeks and it doesn't seem like it.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 08:57AM

“I went to Munk and Nunn about two weeks after its supposed re-imagining. My boyfriend and I were intrigued by the new menu posted on the website, but when we sat down we were informed that the owner had decided to keep with a smaller menu similar to that of Zesty's. We stayed anyway-our mistake. The waitress was a sweetheart, but the food was sub par at best. I ordered a lamb shank that was juicy yet the sauce was too salty and the entree came with none of the side orders with which it was advertised. We should have gone to Chabba Thai like we always do.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Aug 4, 2010 at 03:34PM

“My wife and I have been going to Zesty's for years, and were excited to try some of the new things offered by Munk & Nunn, and to see what they had done with the place. The bar side is beautiful and the staff is always friendly. Personally, I'm not sure what this guy is talking about - we've never had a bad experience and the food has always been great. The octopus is the best I've ever had and you can't beat the crab cake. I'd take this review with a grain of salt for sure - I plan on being a continued patron. BTW - beer selection is great - he didn't even mention that.”

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4. herman said... on Aug 5, 2010 at 11:54AM

“You know Brian, you behaved like a coward at Munk & Nunn. Yes, the chef was overbearing, rude even. But you are a bunch of liars! Why not tell the waitress what was wrong with the meal? She asked! Why couldn't you have told the chef what you didn't like about his food? He asked! I understand that no one wants to have an unpleasant confrontation (which would be really unprofessional) but it seems to me the guy really cares, is trying to figure out why his restaurant is failing, and is under a great deal of stress. Don't you think you could have put yourself out to help him a little bit. Its not like you were kinder and gentler for having gone home to contemplate. You just hid behind your review, like a coward.
At its' best, a restaurant is a dance between restaurateur and guest. The host proposes the experience, it is up to the guest to accept or reject the experience offered. Without honest feedback from guests how is an owner or chef to know what his guests actually experience.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Aug 7, 2010 at 12:52PM

“Your right, he is a coward. He kisses the ass of all the downtown restaurants but craps on a manayunk restaurant for no good reason.”

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6. peter said... on Aug 7, 2010 at 01:24PM

“Exactly - it would be far too dangerous to put down a downtown restaurant when it might offend the posse of philly pr agents he's obviously tied into. This is pathetic.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Aug 13, 2010 at 10:08AM

“Thanks, responders, for making this a truly "only in Philly" story! "Only in Philly" would a crazed chef confront bill-paying customers; "only in Philly" would people actually defend him, and blame the customer!”

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8. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2010 at 04:36PM

“Only in Philly would someone hire this joker to be a restaurant critic.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Sep 6, 2010 at 04:21PM

“Wonderful meal from beginning to end from an attentive and friendly staff.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jan 18, 2011 at 02:27PM

“I live in Manayunk and I've eaten at Zesty's/Munk&Nunn for years. I'm not sure if its my taste in food that has improved or if I just didn't realize how bad their food is. The last meal I ate there and will ever eat there was a lamb gyro that had cold raw lamb meat in it. The article is dead on, I've had the same bad experiences here, but you should have told the owner the truth and not pussed out. I don't see a restaurant like this staying in business.”

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11. djodjo said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 02:38PM

“we came there on a saturday evening and i must say everything was a complete S$%^# feast.we were so disappointed that we will never go back.just to think that the bill was at least $i110.00 dollars.”

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12. sammyD said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 05:15PM

“i know the place well. last time i was there was 2001 and it was disgusting !!”


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