As soon as the weather starts to turn a bit cooler, I start craving comfort foods of all kinds. Mac-and-cheese and meatloaf. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream. It’s a good thing that cold weather clothing can hide some of the side effects from consuming this kind of food.
Jones has traditionally been my go-to place for my comfort food fix, but I recently discovered The Dandelion, Stephen Starr’s take on the traditional British pub. I’ve now been there three times in recent weeks. It’s pretty much my new favorite.
The restaurant occupies two former houses in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood and evokes the feeling of stepping back in time to the Victoria era. The various rooms throughout the restaurant are decorated with dark wood paneling, rich fabrics and leather furniture. Whimsical knick-knacks and vintage photos line the walls and none of the vintage dishes go together. It makes you want to stay for awhile.
The attention to all of these details carries over to the seasonally inspired menus, prepared by British-born chef Robert Aikens. On my most recent visit, our server explained the complicated filtration system that the restaurant installed to make their own flat and “fizzy” waters and noted that all of the sourdough and multigrain breads are made down the street at Parc. Bread service at Dandelion gets extra points from me as well, since it is complimented by a slab of creamy, unsalted butter and a salt shaker so you can add as much or as little of the stuff as you want. It’s the little things.
So far, I have only visited the Dandelion in the late summer/early fall, so you might find different dishes on the menu at other times of the year. The menu is fairly large and most of the traditional favorites, like beans on toast, rabbit pie and fish and chips, seem to be constants.
One of my favorite items from the starter menu is the house-made ricotta. Actually, it might be my favorite item anywhere at the moment. It’s whipped to a light, creamy consistency, topped with olive oil, a bit of salt, and fresh herbs. There’s a little bit of vinegar mixed in as well, for a bit of unexpected acidity. It’s served at room temperature, which makes it perfect for spreading on the accompanying toasted sourdough bread. I can also vouch for cheese board, which is comprised of three cheeses (selections vary) and all of the trimmings, including honey, savory biscuits, quince paste and grape chutney. If you are looking for a lighter option before you indulge in a hearty entrée, the Dandelion salad with mixed greens, cucumber, avocado and dandelion leaves is a good option. I didn’t realize that dandelions are actually edible—the greens have a bite that’s similar to arugula. Who knew that weeds could be tasty?
As far as entrées go, you can’t go wrong with the fish and chips. A generous portion of cod is dipped in beer batter and fried in beef fat. Yes, beef fat. I remember reading somewhere that it takes several hours to render the fat into a liquid suitable for achieving the golden brown, slightly chewy coating that makes this version of fish and chips the best I’ve ever had outside of the UK. Other dishes I would recommend include the salmon, which is simply dressed with a lemon, sage and pine nut brown butter sauce, and the roasted sea scallops, topped with smoky bacon and a slightly sweet sherry vinaigrette.
There are of course options other than seafood. Chester declared that the pork belly with cider vinegar glaze was the best version of the dish he’s ever had, mostly because of its healthy layer of fat and top layer of crispy skin. My aunt gave high marks to the lamb shepherd’s pie (kudos to the kitchen for accommodating her request to leave the cheese out!).
Be sure to save room for dessert, because sticky toffee pudding is on the menu. Even if you share the dish with someone, you likely won’t be able to finish it. The combination of dense cake, warm toffee sauce and date ice cream melting over the whole thing in sickeningly sweet in all the right ways. There are other things on the dessert menu, too, but the toffee pudding is really the only thing you need to know about.
The only drawback to the Dandelion experience is that the same dishes you would find in a regular old pub are much pricier here. But, since I’m not really a big drinker (which is pretty much the reason to go to a pub, right?), I don’t mind spending a little extra for top-notch food, service and atmosphere. For the most part, prices seemed appropriate when considering the fairly generous portion sizes for most dishes and are in line with other restaurants in the neighborhood.
Dandelion is open for lunch, dinner, weekend brunch and afternoon tea. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, the restaurants serves a traditional beef roast with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and vegetables. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a chilly afternoon during the fall and winter months ahead.