Is the new Walnut Street Café in University City a game-changer or aggressively dull? It depends which Philly food critic you talk to.
Craig LaBan reviewed the all-day eatery, set on the ground floor of the new FMC tower just over the Schuylkill from Center City, and it’s safe to say he’s a fan. The Philadelphia Inquirer critic called Walnut Street Café a “potential game-changer” with the “wherewithal to connect the east and west banks of the Schuylkill like no other West Philly restaurant before it,” citing the gorgeous space, “fantastic cocktails” and wine program, and “star chef spinning smart takes on pasta and American cuisine.”
That star chef is Daniel Eddy. He’s one of three Walnut Street Café partners who also run Rebelle, a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York, along with star sommelier Patrick Cappiello and managing partner Branden McRill. And while LaBan was impressed with almost everything that came out of Eddy’s kitchen, Philadelphia magazine’s Jason Sheehan was decidedly less so, saying, in true Philly fashion, “how many Michelin stars you’re bringing with you doesn’t count.”
Like LaBan, Sheehan uses “beautiful” to describe Walnut Street Café. He praises the service and the lunch, when the restaurant is “lovely and welcoming.” But the evening repast didn’t do it for him; Sheehan seems let down after the Walnut Street Café hype. He wanted something more adventurous:
[A]t dinner, Walnut Street is aggressively dull. The menu is both of-the-moment (but certainly not ahead of it) and so carefully comforting that it might as well be written on Nerf. The ricotta toast with lemon is Instagram-pretty, if only serviceable on the plate — the ricotta lumped on like cumulus clouds, and with roughly the same amount of flavor. The marsala is safe — a chicken breast, nicely cooked, breaded and laid over a chunky platter of whole button mushrooms and a marsala wine sauce with no edge to it, no sense of anyone coloring outside the lines.
One thing both critics can agree on is pastry chef Melissa Weller’s baked goods. Sheehan calls her “the real deal,” referring to her apple slab pie as a “masterpiece.” LaBan is similarly effusive about biting into Weller’s kouign amann:
There are a few fine renditions in Philly right now. But the heart of this one flowed with a dreamy core of chocolate hazelnut cream. And it was, like, what just happened?!
Darned if the sun outside that window didn’t suddenly just shine a little brighter. And this once-barren stretch of Walnut Street looking back over the rail yards and river to Center City sprang to vibrant new life.
- Game-changing all-day goodness at polished new Walnut Street Cafe [Philly.com]
- Right Here, Right Now: Walnut Street Cafe Reviewed [Philly Mag]
- Spend All Day at the Sleek, Airy Walnut Street Cafe [Eater Philly]
- Walnut Street Cafe Opens Friday in the FMC Tower [Eater Philly]