Full Complement

Marigold, Philadelphia: “Sometimes you have to just let art … flow … over you”

IN The Big Chill, a group of friends come together for the funeral of another friend.  While today’s brunch at Marigold did not have a somber air, it did have a  similar reunion-esque vibe.  Among our gang was Wee, who’s been MIA for ages due to med school hooplah; Nicole, ensconced in West Philly but who can be teased out with quizo and dim sum; Megan, who I’d heard lots about but had yet to sit down over coffee with; and Paige, passing through but stilling for long enough to eat and laugh and catch up.

We also bumped into three other college acquaintances over the course of the meal, which just goes to show that Philly is a city that holds its people.  Kind of like Paris, or Cairo.  Sit anywhere on the Champs Élysées or at Tahrir Square (preferably not in the square itself, but adjacent–say, at the Egyptian Museum) for long enough, and you’re sure to see a parade of faces from your past.  It’s comforting to know that Philly is growing into one of those cities.

Today was another one of the city’s beautiful days: we woke with the hint of snow on the ground and the promise of more to come; I woke to a reminder of a friend’s production of The Tempest.  The trolley came almost on time (a positive sign for Septa).  All good things, and they just contributed to the general air of satisfaction.

I met Wee and Nicole outside Marigold, and we proceeded into the cozy inner vestibule to warm ourselves and start the adventure with laughter and reminisces.  Megan and Paige showed up a few minutes later and Wee taught them how to make stars out of rubber bands; and then we were ushered inside the restaurant proper to our window-side table.  With my back to the street and surrounded by glass, I felt both part of the scenery and an on-looker onto the world outside.

Because Paige was catching a train, we had to order fast and eat quicker.  We made our selections contingent on each other’s selections — which sounds a bit balmy, but which meant that once the food came, it rotated.  Nicole’s brioche french toast made its way to each of us; Wee passed his salmon around; Paige and Megan split the mini pumpkin muffins; I passed around forkfuls of surry sausage and mushroom crepe; Paige handed off her sandwich to anyone who wanted a bite.  Family-style, and very easy.  Conversation, coffee, and food passed from person to person, punctuated by laughter, happy sighs, and “remember whens?”

At the end, as we sat contentedly in our star-shaped 5-person formation, the general consensus was clear.  “What’s for dessert?”  Wee was satisfied, but had enjoyed his meal so much he wanted more. 

Marigold provides perfectly proportioned dishes–not too much, but just enough that you know you’ll be back.  The walls are a delicate yellow, bearing bright paintings and, in the vestibule, copper-pipe light fixtures.  It feels like a house, but like no home you’d ever known.  Nicole and Megan mused for a moment on whether or not they could turn their West Philly address into a brunch kitchen; they certainly have enough chairs for it.  But the thought of coming “home” to dishes, or waking up knowing you have to put on your brightest face and bring out the fresh coffee…Well, it was all a bit much.  Maybe one day, when we’re a little more established, a little more settled.

As for me?  I bid my goodbyes and went to see The Tempest.  Talking about theater is not my forte, but this was a haunting performance that stripped the text down and rebuilt it around three faces, three sets of hands, and three voices — and what “rough magic” they could cull from their own artistry.  (Shout out to the lighting, sound design, and set, too–magic.  Magic!)  And from there, to home; and once at home, I settled in for a quiet evening, watching the new snow fall in the city and letting the scent of fresh blackberry muffins rise in the oven behind me.

At its heart, isn’t that what a Sunday is for?


Brunch · Full Complement

Rx, Philadelphia: Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee

I’VE been hearing about Rx (BYOB) for quite some time now. This quaint West Philly haunt is a cute corner spot that serves as both a student hangout and a community home. The waitstaff know their patrons; the woman sitting at the table beside ours forgot her wallet and her brunch was put “on tab.” Her waiter joked she’d be leaving him a 50% tip.

Knowing my fondness for french toast and fruit, Stainless Steel Faust recommended Rx to me, remarking that this had been a “classic” brunch place in his college days. It certainly has a homey, comforting feel to it. Small but humble, the drugstore-turned-restaurant is a place in which you can cozy up around a volume of Descartes or a particularly juicy Donne poem.

But don’t let appearances fool. For all of Rx‘s inner charms, the food is hit or miss (though salvageable). The brunch menu is printed up week-by-week, serving up a variety of options. Friend and I decided to share our brunch fare, ordering the Brioche French Toast with Strawberry Compote and Endless Maple Syrup ($8.00) and the Oley Valley Shitake and Oyster Mushrooms with Baby Arugula and Swiss Cheese Omelet ($9.00).

Now, you know my feelings on french toast. I have clear rules, and I don’t think they’re unreasonable. Rx‘s strawberry compote put in an admirable showing, but I don’t like my french toast crunchy, and I don’t like it soggy. Moist, yes; soggy, most definitely not. Friend didn’t even finish her three-slice portion.

And the omelet, though filled with delicious mushrooms and arugula, was salty. Nothing a little Tabasco couldn’t fix, but I like my condiments optional. I should go there only if I choose, not because it’s imperative for a palatable mouthful.

That said, I can’t find it in my heart to completely write off Rx. I love the idea of a neighborhood eatery that’ll know you, and take your meal on credit. Our waiter was fabulous, and chased us halfway down the block when I left my camera on the table. And the coffee–advertised as “endless”–made its rounds again, and again, and (thankfully!) again.

What could have been a great meal degenerated into something woefully short of spectacular. What could have been a reliable West Philly brunch spot is tainted now with the stain of not living up to its potential. As with Meera Syal’s Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, I was left with a heavy heart. But where Syal assuaged that heaviness with a message of hope and self-reliance, Rx just left me heavy-hearted and hungry.