In September, Starbucks brought back the infamous pumpkin spice latte, a clear indicator autumn had arrived. But for Philadelphia restaurants where seasonality of food is key, pumpkin is a lot more than a syrup.
At West Philadelphia restaurant Marigold Kitchen, located at 501 S. 45th St., the pre-fixed menu starts and ends with courses featuring pumpkin and walnut. The $90 blind tasting menu is served Tuesday through Saturday.
This dining style means there is not an à la carte menu for guests to select options, or to predict what course will come next. Instead, a printed menu is presented to guests at the end as a way to preserve the memory.
“We try to keep everything secret,” general manager and 2012 alumnus Christopher Albert said. “It’s part of the lure of coming here. The chefs pull from a lot of different origins. Modernist is the category they would fall under—they use French, New American, and molecular gastronomy techniques.”
Albert graduated with a history degree and is now part of Marigold’s staff. The entire staff is under age 30 and introduced the innovative blind tasting menu to Philadelphia’s dining scene in 2013, with renowned Italian restaurant Vetri soon following suit.
“We’ve made a tradition with messing around with pumpkin in unconventional ways,” Marigold Kitchen’s chef and co-owner Andrew Kochan said. “We’ll find really good cauliflower—you just can’t say no to it. We make a gel right now using raisins and brandy. [We] puree and strain it. One of the bigger things that we wanted to play around with this year is browned butter. It’s addictive. And strangely enough, my favorite thing on Earth is a good mushroom.”
Kochan said that, surprisingly, mushrooms aren’t featured on the secret menu. As for a protein, Kochan would only give one hint: “Quack quack.”
Morgan’s Pier, an outdoor beer garden at 221 N. Columbus Blvd., is also taking the seasonal changes into account. The venue extended its season to Oct. 31 and the kitchen focuses on using seasonal produce.
“I get excited because it’s time to cook brussels sprouts and beets again,” said chef de cuisine Kyle McCormick. “As far as the menu goes, we did go for an Oktoberfest feel to the menu with kielbasa and sauerkraut. At a place like this, we get all manner of people, so it’s hard to generalize. I think people are excited when they see warm beverages and heartier foods like stews and beans.”
At Bufad Pizza at 1240 Spring Garden St., the menu includes an unconventional hearty protein—rabbit.
“First we rub the rabbits down with a mixture of garlic, herbs, salt and pepper,” executive chef Lauren Weitman said. “It gets braised in chicken stock and all the meat gets pulled from the bone. We start the ragu—there’s pancetta, sautéing some fennel. We put the rabbit back into the pot with the braising liquid. Then there’s white wine and tomato that goes into the ragu and that’s slowly simmered for another two hours.”
For Swiss Haus Bakery at 35 S. 19th St., pumpkin is best utilized in dessert. This fall, they’re offering pumpkin cookies, cheesecake, whoopee pies and rolls.
“We have pumpkin rolls by the slice,” owner Josh White said. “It’s a pumpkin walnut cake with cream cheese frosting. There’s no real season for cakes. It’s not so much about the weather changing as it is different events throughout the year.”
White launched a cookie business in 2013 as an entrepreneurial venture while attending business school at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylania. As online demand grew, he took over the existing Swiss Haus Bakery at their Center City location.
There is a sense of consistency in seasonal changes. When there’s a chill in the air, people always look for heartier meals, richer spices and of course, pumpkin.
“When you’re making dishes, you’re always thinking of what you’ve done before and what you’ve seen before,” McCormick said. “It’s not like things are exactly the same, but you’re always thinking of the past when moving forward.”
Madeline Presland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video shot by Natassia Kuronen, edited by Harrison Brink.