A restaurant that specializes in seasonal American cuisine, prepared with fresh local ingredients, isn’t exactly hard to come by these days. But when those ingredients are turned into unique and exciting dishes, with a menu that changes nearly every day, and there’s a ridiculously good cheese selection? Then that’s something special, and that’s exactly what we experienced recently at Philadelphia’s Talula’s Garden.
The six year-old restaurant is run by chef/owner Aimee Olexy in partnership with restaurateur Stephen Starr; Olexy is a Philly restaurant vet who previously ran the acclaimed Django and also helms Talula’s Table, a 10-seater that very well might be the country’s toughest reservation. Dining at Talula’s Garden definitely shows you why her other spots have proven so popular.
Talula’s Garden is located on bucolic Washington Square, and about a third of the restaurant’s footprint is an actual garden, one of the city’s finest outdoor dining spaces. You have to walk through it to enter the restaurant, which is made up of three soaring spaces: a bar and two dining rooms.
It’s a pricey restaurant, but not egregiously so: On the night we visited, the seven appetizers ranged from $14 to $17, four pastas ranged from $20 to $22, seven mains ranged from $30 to $34, and vegetable sides were all $8; a nightly nine-course tasting menu is also available for $100. We started with “Peaches & Bacon”: peaches, local lettuces, spicy pecans, pepper glazed bacon, lemon-dill dressing, and hot honey. The peaches were perfectly ripe, the bacon was sweet and peppery, and it was served in a pool of creamy yogurt-dill sauce that helped tie it all together.
All pastas are made in-house, so we also tried the goat cheese cavatelli with sautéed sweet corn and summer truffles, topped with pinot gris and brown butter toasted bread crumbs on top. It was honestly one of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever had, and we couldn’t stop eating it; Half tender fresh cavatelli, half fresh sweet corn, in a just-creamy-enough sauce with textural contrast from the breadcrumbs and a hint of truffle and chive. We were seriously considering ordering a second round to go.
For our mains, we ordered a Chimayo pepper-spiced half-chicken with a sweet corn tomato jam, avocado salsa, yogurt sauce, and roasted potatoes; as well as caramelized sea scallops with charred snap peas, hummus spiced with a Middle Eastern spice mixture called Baharat, baby beets, jalapeño tahini, and pepitas. Both of them offered layer upon layer of flavor. The chicken was well-seasoned and juicy, with crispy skin, and all the accompaniments worked together to result in a Southwestern dish that would make Bobby Flay weep.
The perfectly seared scallops, nestled into a verdant pile of dressed greens atop bright red hummus, were also a joy to eat; I’ll certainly be charring my snap peas from now on. On the side, a big bowl of local red and yellow watermelon, crumbled feta, slivered jalapeño, and preserved watermelon rind served as a fresh and cold counterpoint.
The restaurant also happens to have one of the best cheese selections in the country, so make sure you save room to try one of the five cheese collections, which include anywhere from six to eight cheeses (you can also assemble your own cheese plate from the ones on hand). Our “World Travel” plate had a smartly assembled assortment of cow, goat, sheep, and buffalo cheeses from Spain, France, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Holland, and Ireland, each served with their own accompaniments, and it was spectacular. The cocktail selection is also worthy of note; we were especially fond of The Southerner (rye whiskey, yellow peaches, lemon, and mint), The Optimist (citrus vodka, huckleberry, lemon juice, and tropical green tea), and the housemade white sangria.
Talula’s Garden is one of the most popular restaurants in Philly, and with good reason: they’re taking the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, turning them into unique and exciting dishes, and doing it all with flair, personality, and a whole lot of charm.