Brunch at Lacroix is famous, but a trip to the decadent buffet in the Rittenhouse Hotel will run you more than $100 per person.
Here’s good news for folks looking for similar flavor elegance in wallet-friendly form: this weekend marks the launch of brunch at Harper’s Garden, and nothing on the menu tops $14.
Harper’s is the new patio-centric restaurant in Center City that was originally pegged as Tria Wine Bar, and was then taken over by Avram Hornik of FCM Hospitality (Morgan’s Pier, Concourse, Dolphin Tavern). Chef Ben Moore’s most recent stop was Wister BYOB in Old City, but before that he worked in the kitchen at Lacroix, and he’s brought that sensibility to his new gig — in a very accessible way.
If you didn’t know his pedigree, you’d probably think Harper’s brunch menu was your normal morning/early afternoon/great-with-mimosa-but-nothing-special weekend fare.
But dig into one of Moore’s creations and you’ll get a pleasant surprise. The plates that seem relatively simple at first look pop with nuanced layers of spice, creative use of unorthodox ingredients and unexpected texture combos that really sing.
Here’s a tour through some of the more delicious examples on the list.
French toast is french toast is french toast — except when it’s in Moore’s hands. He turns rich, dense brioche into cubes that have a crisp and light exterior, then matches them with condiments that avoid being overly sugary.
Almond butter is used to sweeten tangy mascarpone, espresso whipped cream carries intense coffee aroma, and orange marmalade perks up the pool of Vermont maple syrup at the bowl’s base ($14).
If Jacques Pepin is right, and you can judge a chef’s abilities by how well they make an omelette, Moore’s one super talented guy. His rendition of the egg crepe ($12) looks picture-perfect, with nary a brown spot in sight.
Once you dig in is where the real evidence comes through, as a tumble of wild mushrooms mixes with Saint Andre cheese and an assortment of fresh herbs for a bite you won’t soon forget. Don’t sleep on the intricate side salad, either — it’s also available as a solo plate for $10.
For those going the healthy brunch route (no judging, maybe you’re just saving up for a splurge later on), the $10 breakfast bowl is anything but boring.
The artistically arranged platter has more ingredients than you can count — including mango, fresh and cured strawberries, mint, banana-coconut tapioca, almond crisp, chia pudding and mint — so that each mouthful is a pleasing surprise.
Smoked salmon tartine
Fans of a savory brunch will want to go straight for Moore’s smoked salmon tartine ($14). The killer ingredient here is really the bread — a dense deli-style rye from Alex Bois of Lost Bread Bakery.
Capers, onions and dill are traditionally accompaniments, but the flavor combination gets an extra punch from Moore’s inclusion of dijon mustard in the creme fraiche spread.
The ‘Merica Burger
Moore’s burger ($14) is like a backyard classic and a gastropub behemoth had a baby. Double-stacked patties of a brisket blend are meaty but not so rich as to distract, and are covered in plenty of Cooper Sharp cheese, which is basically American cheese done right. Instead of lettuce or tomato — this is NOT a salad, folks — there’s pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup to butter up the seeded milk bread bun.
Fresh housemade chips on the side are a definite added bonus.
Harper’s is much more than a beer garden — the inside dining room is equipped with a full bar, and it’s run by veteran cocktailian Jesse Cornell. Along with the regular suspects, his brunch drink list includes a lemon-rosé Strawberry Swing and a boozy take on kombucha.
Cornell is also getting creative for Negroni Week (June 4-10) by offering three takes on drink: made with tequila, sparkling wine or classically with gin.
Harper’s Garden is located on the corner of 18th Street and Ludlow, next to the Duane Morris building between Chestnut and Market. Brunch is served 12 to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is available nightly from 5 to 10 p.m., and lunch runs weekdays from noon to 3.