A chandelier made of rusted bird cages hangs over a family-style table—large enough to seat 10—in Queen Village’s newest eatery.
The nod to birds and community-style dining are integral parts of the Hungry Pigeon on 743 S. 4th St. The cafe held its grand opening on Jan. 18. The two chefs at the helm, Pat O’Malley and Scott Schroeder, wanted to create a neighborhood spot with a delicious, but accessible, menu.
While maintaining a menu of recognizable and familiar items, the restaurant’s namesake—pigeon—is also a dining option.
“It’s a beautiful little bird,” O’Malley said. “We wanted to incorporate it into a pot-pie, but it has such a nice, poultry taste that we roast it and serve it rare.”
The eatery’s name is derived from its location. After learning Fabric Row—a section of Queen Village on 4th Street between Monroe and Pemberton streets—was once infested with pigeons, the chefs decided to ground the name in local history.
Born in suburban Maryland, O’Malley came to Philadelphia to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. O’Malley worked at Center City’s ¡Pasión!, now-closed, where he met Schroeder, a Detroit native. Both chefs worked alongside Guillermo Pernot, the force behind Cuban restaurant and rum bar Cuba Libre.
For O’Malley, working at ¡Pasión! was “a powerful and important time.”
“I learned that to be a chef, the flavors have to be good and the food approachable,” O’Malley said.
Schroeder later worked at the American Sardine Bar in Point Breeze, as well as the South Philadelphia Tap Room. After taking an interest in the pastry field, O’Malley moved to New York City and worked at Balthazar Bakery, later transferring to its factory.
Pastry factory had its compromises, O’Malley said.
“We joked at Balthazar that the only people who knew what a real Balthazar croissant tasted like were the bakers,” he said.
“Schroeder and I agreed that this isn’t how we eat,” O’Malley added. “We wanted to create a place based on how we eat at home.”
For O’Malley, Philadelphia was the perfect spot in comparison to New York City. He said the audience would be receptive to a restaurant with good food that welcomes patrons in jeans and T-shirts.
The Hungry Pigeon’s menu reflects that goal. The chefs created their own version of McDonald’s Egg McMuffin for breakfast. O’Malley creates pastries by hand, using whole fruits and sparse amounts of sugar.
Despite opening just a few weeks ago, employee Christina Heppard said the Hungry Pigeon already has regular customers. On Jan. 28, Heppard brewed coffee for neighborhood guests while fellow employee Riley Duffie took a hot chocolate order for a small child who tugged on her mother’s pant legs.
“The local guests have been saying, ‘We needed a place like this,’” Duffie said.
“Love,” said Pete Mattis, who works across the street at ZAKTi Fitness Studio. “Best croissants ever.”
The chefs were happy to return to Philadelphia.
“We’re glad to be back,” O’Malley said.
Hungry Pigeon is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to midnight Friday. The cafe serves breakfast starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Shealyn Kilroy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: In a version of this article that also ran in print, Scott Schroeder was said to have opened American Sardine Bar and the South Philadelphia Tap Room. In fact, Schroeder did not open these restaurants, but was hired as a chef after the openings.