Saturday, April 25, 2015

St. Philip: Doing Everything Well

I’ve been to St. Philip for date nights with my wife, for dinner with the kids, for a happy hour snack on the patio, even for a quick lunch. They do everything well - the place is beautiful, the food consistent and delicious, the service phenomenal. Even waiting for a table on the cleverly designed patio is a treat. The entire space is light, airy and open - modern and trendy but in a  friendly, accessible way. Years ago, this place was a plant nursery, and in St. Philip a little of that feel comes through.

Pizza is what this place is about, and pizzas are awfully good. My favorite from the early days - lox and capers - is sadly no longer on the menu, but the remaining pizzas, if a little more predicatable are still worth the trip. Standouts are the fennel sausage and the meatball pies, both of which are rich and savory, bringing out the best in the simple tomato sauce. Both are improved with the addition of field greens, the one major option for pizzas on the menu.

As good as they are, pizzas are not the best thing they do. Golden Cauliflower, over tangy yogurt with raisins and pumpkin seeds is a revelation and always flawless. The chicken and funnel cake is everything chicken and waffles wishes it could be - unflinching in the combination of sweet and savory. The house-made burrata is as soft and silky as any I've ever had. The carrot and avocado salad is exceptional with carrots roasted to a soft bite that compliments the crunch of the granola, the bright greens, and the simply dressed avocado. Just about everything on this menu sings.

Golden Cauliflower
Chicken and Funnel Cake

Burrata and Lavash
Carrot and Avocado
The only disappointment for me is the weekend brunch - and it's really only disappointing next to the sky-high standard I'd begun to expect for the place. The house-smoked lox in Smoked Salmon sandwich was lovely, but was overpowered by the amount of herbed cream cheese. The brisket in the Smoked Brisket sandwhich a little too fatty, the Pancetta sliced too thick for the little sandwich I had it on. Smores Waffles and Brulee French Toast however are amazeballs, skirting that lovely line between breakfast and dessert. The brunch menu is evolving even as I write this post. I have no doubt that it'll be better the next time I go.

Exit Through the Bakeshop is the running gag throughout the restaurant and it works - the bakeshop is a clever little addition at the far end of the dining room. The confections in the cases in front of the enormous wood burning oven are both creative and beautiful. Opinions on taste are mixed. I am an apologetic sugar addict, and I find the desserts not always as sweet or flavorful as I'd like. Friends without such a sweet tooth swear by them.

In fourth grade, my teacher assigned us all to come up with an adjective to describe ourselves starting with the same letter as our last name. My classmates were Excellent, Fast, Strong, Perfect. And then it was my turn, and I proudly chose Competent Castro. The teacher looked at me with pity in her eyes; she assured me that just to be competent was not much of a aspiration at all. I tried to explain that to be competent was the best thing you could be, it meant that you could do everything, and that you could do everything well. She was not convinced. If St. Philip was in Grand Rapids, MI in the 80s, I'd have just pointed to the place and said - "this is what I mean."

St. Philip does everything well, and some things extraordinarily well. It is not the best pizza in town, or the best patio, or the most gracious service; but it is the only place I know that is so nearly the best in so many different ways. When I said I wished for competence back all those years ago, this is precisely what I meant.

St Philip on Urbanspoon

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