Here’s the thing about Kimpton Hotels: They may serve an international clientele, but their restaurants think local. As in local purveyors and local hangouts, designed to please both hotel guests and neighborhood regulars with excellent and attentive service. Offering Philadelphia family dining that’s great for tourists and locals alike, the newly opened Red Owl Tavern in the Hotel Monaco is no exception.
We ate at the Red Owl Tavern twice. On Friday evening we had tickets for a concert that started at 7 and needed to get some food in us fast, so after a visit to the wine hour in the hotel lobby, we into the restaurant to see what we could find. We were seated immediately and when we told our waiter that we were on a schedule, he did everything he could to make sure we stuck to it (without our feeling rushed).
Mostly we just wanted a snack, although I also couldn’t resist the beautiful list of handmade cocktails and had to sample a Madam Juniper, which was a gorgeous mix of vodka, juniper syrup, port and maybe a bit of fairy dust, I don’t know. It tasted both deeply herbal and fresh and was the perfect thing on a cold December night.
Red Owl prides itself on its house-made charcuterie and so Matt and I decided to sample a variety. The generous meat, cheese and veg board held many tempting treats, perhaps most surprisingly the addictive pickled green beans.
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And the sausage of the day was served on a bed of white beans and toast with a spicy jam that pulled everything together beautifully.
Delicious meat and pickle aside, it is the humble potato that shines at Red Owl. A dish of the smashed fingerling potatoes that I imagine was probably mashed with nothing but the best selling potato masher available to the chefs, topped with cheddar, was eaten far too quickly to be photographed and was proclaimed the platonic spuds dish. And the seasoned fries that accompanied Teddy’s cheeseburger were also crispy perfection.
I definitely would like to return for a full dinner, but have to say that grazing from the appetizers was a very satisfying and economical way to feed all four of us and also to get quickly out the door to our destination for the evening.
Saturday morning was more leisurely. We headed down to the light-filled space for brunch. The restaurant is stylish but comfortable; I loved the huge windows and exposed brick, to say nothing of the views of Independence Hall. And although I didn’t sample one, the juices for the bottomless build-your-own Bellini bar looked positively lip smacking.
As we arrived Teddy was mourning the untwisting of the balloon Rudolph that he had been given the prior evening. Happily, our waitress Cesilie knew a thing or two about both the Christmas spirit and balloon animals and was able to perform surgery that kept Teddy’s reindeer intact and a smile on his face.
He was also kept happy by his order of a mixed berry smoothie (Tommy ordered the mango ginger, which was also delicious and not too sweet) and a bowl of fruit in which he requested that there be “lots and lots of raspberries because I love them.”
Matt and the boys had sampled the apple cider donuts the previous evening at the hotel wine hour, so I knew that I was in for a treat when I asked to have on instead of toast with my breakfast. My request was rewarded with a plate full of them and I must tell you: Whatever else you order, do not pass these babies up. They are everything that donuts of this ilk should be – crispy outside, tender inside, spicy and sweet. I could easily have devoured three or four.
But then I wouldn’t have had room for eggs, potatoes and bacon, all served on the charming Red Owl china.
The only disappointing aspect of breakfast, I’m sad to report, was that the bacon was not really up to snuff. As self-appointed bacon inspector of every restaurant I visit, I felt that it didn’t have the kind of flavor I’d expect from a restaurant with great homemade cured meats.
Bacon aside, if you’re planning a stay at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia, I would definitely recommend at the very least enjoying breakfast or brunch at the Red Owl Tavern. And even if you aren’t, I’d suggest this as a great place to stop for a bite to eat when visiting Independence National Historical Park or the National Constitution Center or even Franklin Square, as it’s convenient to all three and serves food continuously throughout the day. At the very least you owe it to yourself to stop by and pick up a few of those donuts. You’ll leave happy and maybe even inspired by the quote at the bottom of your receipt.
I’d also like to point out that I’ve never been anything but delighted by the food, service, or family-friendly touches at a restaurant in a Kimpton Hotel, so if you’re visiting a new city and looking for a place to eat out with kids, they make a good bet.
Although the Hotel Monaco was kind enough to host me and my family for a night’s stay, they did not pay for our food. You can always count on me to let you know when I’ve gotten something for free and to share my honest opinions.