In July of 2008, I reviewed the dinner service at brunch club Cafe Estelle, and marveled at the young chef, Marshall Green, and his pillowy gnocchi. Dinner at Estelle proved short-lived, while the restaurant itself lasted five respectable years before Green locked the doors for good last September. He resurfaced in May as the chef of Jerry’s Bar, and the gnocchi are as heavenly as I remember.
I swear were it not for the earsplitting din of the dining room in the front of this handsomely restored saloon up an otherwise sleepy Northern Liberties lane, I could hear cherubs harmonizing as I spooned up Green’s cloud-like potato dumplings from their colorful pool of warm diced heirloom tomatoes. Boiled, then pan-seared in brown butter a la spaetzle, the gnocchi were tanned like Labor Day beach-goers, the caramelization contrasting with their soft centers. Fresh basil. Basil oil. Grated Pecorino. Lemon. A dollop of sweet, creamy ricotta. Damn, it’s good to have Green back in the kitchen.
Bill Proud, who owns Jerry’s and a mason restoration company, has been wise to give Green autonomy in designing the menu, an easy-to-love mix of bistro and bar staples like house-made pierogies garlanded in caramelized onions and an elegant trout-and-apple salad starring luscious fish brined in jasmine tea then smoked over hickory. A bright green bowl of pea soup sang, its earthy sweetness cut nicely by buttermilk and sour cream. Black as balsamic, beads of paddlefish caviar drifted across the soup, marooned on a scoop of creme fraiché.
You won’t find a bouillabaisse with a more impressive trove of seafood: Louisiana shrimp, wild Maine mussels, cockles, branzino, Spanish mackerel and haddock. I’d just like to relocate it all to a dish with a more powerful broth and less stale crostini.
Desserts (blueberry crumble, almond-milk rice pudding) felt too easy for someone of Green’s baking credentials – though I might just be grumpy because I’d hoped to see one of his beautiful pies on the menu. “Once we get into apple season,” he promises. I have a feeling I’ll be back before then.
JERRY'S BAR | 129 W. Laurel St., 267-273-1632, jerrysbarphilly.com. Hours: Dinner Sun.-Wed. 5-11 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Brunch Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Bar from 4 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly. Appetizers, $8-$15; sandwiches, $9-$12; entrees, $16-$23; desserts, $7-$13.
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