Tucked between the few remaining fabric stores on Philadelphia's Fourth Street is the charmingly quirky Hungry Pigeon. It's a restaurant that feels like you are hanging out in a chef's home with the good fortune to be eating whatever he or she feels like cooking that day.
In the morning, you might find a riff on an Egg McMuffin that would give most breakfast sandwiches an inferiority complex. At lunch, you could stumble across oil-poached albacore tuna on toast with cucumber, hard-boiled egg and pickled hot peppers, or an extremely satisfying double-stack burger layered with cheese on a house-made bun.
The evenings, however, are when things really gel to create a dinner party-like atmosphere. Everything is served together, and few main dishes are plated, arriving instead in skillets and on small sheet trays. "What do we want to eat, and how [would] we want to do this at home?" co-owner Scott Schroeder says of the approach. "It's more like Thanksgiving where you pass things around and take some," pastry chef and fellow co-owner Pat O'Malley says.
So when we asked the pair for a backyard dinner party lineup, it was easy for them to pick highlights from recent menus. Sticking with a summertime seafood theme, there's an upmarket take on vuelve à la vida, a Mexican fish cocktail with crab, shrimp and bass that gets a zip from a helpful dose of fresh-grated horseradish (see the recipe).
As for the main course of teriyaki-lacquered grilled tuna and shiitake mushroom skewers (see the recipe), it's a throwback, but in a good way. "What did your mom get at a steakhouse in the 1950s when your dad got the steak?" Schroeder jokes. The teriyaki sauce? A guilty pleasure, Schroeder adds. And then there's an addictive cucumber and avocado pilaf (see the recipe) that goes with it. "No one does pilaf—no one cool," Schroeder says. "You see it in a steam table in a retirement community."
The pair embraces the uncool ethos (Schroeder has taken to wearing denim overalls every day—with zero irony). "A lot of the philosophy isn't about the cool things we can do," Schroeder explains. "We love food when it's just left alone."
And for the most part, they do—but not without extracting as much from an ingredient as it can give. To finish the outdoor party, there's a sour cherry pie (see the recipe), which tastes more intensely of cherry than one thought a pie could, something O'Malley achieves by mixing sour cherries with dried ones and kirsch.
The dinner might sound like a dish from column A and a dish from column B, but at Hungry Pigeon, dishes with influences from around the globe are all invited to mingle at the table, and they do so effortlessly. The same goes for the decor of the plant-dotted restaurant, which comes from their respective fiancées, who hung mixed and matched birdcages over a large table in the back and created the pigeon wearing a neckerchief for the bathroom wallpaper
Here, everything feels eclectic—not unlike a comfortable home. One that we would happily visit anytime.
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