November 11-17, 2004

food

Marathon Winner

If you stand between the glass and steel behemoths of the Bridge Cinema du Lux and the Fresh Grocer, you start to feel you have entered some sort of futuristic, upmarket universe where groceries and parking are accessible and movie theater floors aren’t gummy. Until recently, the only thing missing from this University City intersection was a place to get a caramel apple martini after the movie. That is, until Marathon Grill and its sibling nightspot Marbar arrived.

Now in its second decade, the local Marathon Grill chain of seven restaurants has provided the kind of variety you usually only find in New York restaurants. One glance at the four-panel menu, with its seven different chicken sandwiches, 27 salads and 24 smoothie flavors, can be dizzying.

The University City outpost extends that big-and-bold aesthetic from the burgers to its interior design. The 7,600-square-foot room is long and open, with cerulean blue walls and a fishbowl view of the street. The sounds of the upstairs MarBar DJs trickle down into the din of the young crowd that arrives in droves for the daylong breakfast, lunch, dinner and specialty cocktail list.

With so many choices, it would be impossible to give a definitive impression of the bounteous food on offer. A good place to start is the specials page, which when we visited featured toasted flatbread with pears, walnuts and melted gorgonzola cheese—a tasty autumnal snack. We also enjoyed the flaky breaded calamari with fresh tomato sauce and jalapeno peppers. On the other hand, the steamed mussels, another special, were gritty and not particularly fresh, and a side of fries had an anemic, under-fried hue.

The grilled salmon burger salad with red onion, cucumber and alfalfa sprouts is a shortcut through both the sandwich and salad categories. It didn’t come with the promised balsamic dressing but instead was dressed with an equally apt creamy cucumber number. Perhaps the best way to avoid such mistakes in the future would be to select the Control Freak salad option, a checklist of some 62 ingredients.

The room was packed, and the service, kind and friendly, seemed to struggle in the face of so many diners with so many different orders. From all outward appearances, Marathon and MarBar are a hit. And why not? Six different kinds of burgers at 1 a.m. sounds like something students and urban planners alike can agree on.

Marathon Grill 40th and Walnut sts. 215-222-0100

  • Hours: Mon.-Tue. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Wed.-Thu. 11 a.m.-midnight.; Fri., 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
  • Appetizers: $3.50-$7.50; Entrees: $6-$10.50
  • Reservations not accepted.
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • All major credit cards except Discover.
  • Smoking not permitted.

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