PJ Clarke’s, now on Washington Square, is the Philadelphia outpost of the renowned New York saloon.
Legend has it that about 10 years ago, then-Gov. Ed Rendell dined in the Lincoln Center PJ Clarke’s. He loved it so much he demanded to see the owner to insist that they branch out to Philadelphia. It took years, but owner Phil Scotti, a Norristown native, found the perfect site in the Curtis Center and painstakingly created an authentic Philadelphia PJ Clarke’s — its décor features dark wood with a treasure trove of Philly sports memorabilia.
The sprawling interior offers everything from booths to bars, to tables to cozy nooks, and several private room options. The dog-friendly outdoor seating makes the most of the address, with sidewalk tables facing Independence Hall and balcony-style seating around the sides of the grandiose building. When the restaurant opened in September, Rendell was in attendance to celebrate the occasion, and rumor has it that he addressed the crowd standing atop the bar.
Upon entering the place, I expected a macho menu heavy on burgers, wings and steaks, but the chef offers plenty of options for lighter fare — soups, salads, pastas, fish and chicken.
Over the course of several visits, I have sampled a variety of selections.
Let’s start with lunch. I went a bit off script and tried the falafel burger, which was surprisingly great — crispy and flavorful, with plenty of tangy yogurt sauce. Feeling virtuous, I swapped the fries for an arugula salad, which was light, flavorful and a good counterpoint to the carb-a-licious sandwich.
The standard hamburger was a competent execution of the classic, and the cup of thin, crispy fries rounded out the lunch nicely. A companion ordered fish and chips; she fancies herself a connoisseur of the dish and is on a perpetual quest for perfection. She rated PJ’s version highly, touting the crispness of the batter and the fact that it was not overly thick in proportion to the fish.
We split the warm apple raspberry crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert, an indulgence with lunch to be sure, but it sent us back to work with a smiles on our faces.
For dinner, I have partaken in the steak — seemingly a must in a place like that. While it was certainly a quality cut, I found the fish at a subsequent visit to be more interesting; seared red snapper in yuzu shallot vinaigrette, baby bok choy, blistered tomatoes, scallions and sesame delivered a light, flavorful meal featuring perfectly fresh fish.
The place does a brisk happy hour trade, and you get a sense that it is a bit of an expense account crowd. Its price point dictates that it is more of a special occasion destination than a regular haunt.
But for Eagles fans, the scoreboard that displays the 2018 Super Bowl score near the entrance will certainly provide a warm welcome.
If you go:
PJ Clarke’s at the Curtis
601 Walnut St.
Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. until the last guest leaves
Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. until the last guest leaves