I decided to go to Hungry Pigeon because it had been on my mind for quite some time. I had heard of people hanging around the restaurant for lunch and saw various pictures on Instagram highlighting its beautiful, yet simple, dishes and homey family-style presentation (shout out to @feastinginphilly.)
They were No. 1 on the FooBooz Top 50 in Philly for summer, and when I checked for a reservation, they had a table for four people. Just enough to fit me and three of my friends. One of them had just moved to Philadelphia and in retrospect, I could not have picked a better restaurant for his welcome dinner.
Hungry Pigeon is the brainchild of Scott Schroeder and Pat O’Malley. Both have impressive resumes which more than qualify them to be owners of a top Philly restaurant. Per their website, Schroeder has worked for Stephen Starr and George Perrier, who are arguably some of the city’s most influential chefs. O’Malley, has an actual culinary degree from the Art Institute in Philadelphia.
Just reading Hungry Pigeon’s website gives you a glimpse into the dining experience it offers.
It is not a suit and tie affair, I think you’ll feel more at home in your favorite jeans and plain T-shirt. The restaurant does not take itself too seriously and you can expect a cute baby or two to be running around the restaurant chased by a waitress.
The food isn’t what shines at this place —it’s the whole package and the community it draws.
The beauty of visiting a restaurant with three friends is that you get to taste a variety of foods without splurging for the $45 tasting menu that everyone at the table must order (I lobbied for the tasting menu, but was quickly shut down by my friends.)
We started with the Pat’s Bread and Butter, a la carte, which came with fresh made rye and sourdough dough bread over whipped butter. The only unfortunate thing was that the bread wasn’t warm. Whenever my grandma sat down at a restaurant the first thing she would do is grab the bread. If it was cold, we’d be up and leaving before they poured our water. I, however, decided to be a little more forgiving.
The waitress suggested that we eat the entrees family style, so we ordered one starter each and shared two of the main dishes which was more than enough to stuff all of us. For the beginning course, I got the oysters on half shell topped with gazpacho.
Being from Nova Scotia, I thought the oysters were much more sweet than briny. Normally, I like the classic lemon, Tobasco and cocktail sauce combination, however, they knocked these out of the park. The mild oyster carried the fresh gazpacho well, which was crunchy and fresh and added to an otherwise soft and flaccid oyster.
Our other starters were the roasted carrots with fried fava beans and yogurt dressing, chicken liver mousse on top of toasted sourdough bread and roasted eggplant dip with a side of crostinis. The roasted carrots were the epitome of simplicity. The outsides were charred and the insides still crisp and hard, blending the best aspect of both raw and cooked carrots. The mousse was so light you could barely feel your teeth sinking into it until you touched the warm crisp bread (I got my warm bread after all). The deepness of the mousse’s flavor was only cut by the fresh dill and fennel on top.
One thing you will always find on this restaurant’s ever-changing menu is the chicken, which was all the convincing I needed to order it. It is braised, cooked slowly in a little bit of liquid until it is fully tender while still retaining some integrity. To finish it, they grill it. My favorite aspect was that they were not afraid to let it develop some deep char. It was seasoned simply — salt, pepper and maybe some garlic — and served over a fresh salad of cucumbers and the most red tomatoes I have ever seen.
The salad was topped with some salt, pepper and chili oil, along with “every herb they had in the kitchen.”
Our second dish was the special they had for that day, Swedish meatballs. I know what you’re thinking, that sounds like something you’d find at Ikea. With embarrassment, I asked the waitress if this was inspired by what I think it was. Sure enough, our waitress confirmed it was inspired by Ikea. I want to put an emphasis on, “inspired,” because these were nothing like the Ikea meatballs.
They came out with three huge meatballs made from the most tender veal, served on top of mashed potatoes so velvety that they blended with the mushroom gravy. The dish came with a rhubarb compote which bared a strong comparison to the lingonberry jam you get at Ikea and grilled green beans that we quickly threw into the excess chili oil and chicken juices to soak up the flavor. Unfortunately, we skipped dessert to maintain at least a vague identity of not being gluttonous, paid our check, left a generous tip and went on our way.
On my way out of the Hungry Pigeon I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t have my mind blown nor did I become infatuated by some crazy outlandishly designed restaurant. I left somewhere that felt strangely familiar and comfortable to me. The mostly wooded interior, candlelit bar and book lined shelves felt natural together. I wasn’t annoyed by the children running around, the cold bread or the slow service. I enjoyed and accepted every second I was there.
I leaned back the entire time like I do at family meals during holidays while I spoke to people at the neighboring tables. At the risk of sounding corny I must admit, in all seriousness, the Hungry Pigeon was more than a restaurant. It was a physical representation of the Philly food scene: uncomplicated yet scrumptious delicacies served in the most unsuspecting and inviting places.