Bud & Marilyn’s, Philadelphia, PA – A Review

by artfuldiner on September 24, 2019

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Pennsylvania, Wining and Dining

Bud & Marilyn’s

1234 Locust Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 546-2220


Bud & Marilyn's - ExteriorBud & Marilyn’s is yet another entry in the Valerie Safran/Marcie Turney portfolio of highly successful 13th Street corridor eateries. And to say that this dynamic duo has been the driving force behind the transformation of sleepy 13th Street into one of the city’s most vibrant restaurant scenes would, indeed, be right on the money. The other eateries in the couple’s impressively diverse stable include Lolita (Nuevo Mex tacos), Jamonera (paella and tapas), Little Nonna’s (cheese-stuffed meatballs), and the highly-rated wood-fired Italian fare at Barbuzzo.

Bud & Marilyn's - InteriorBud & Marilyn’s, however – if you’ll pardon the continuing analogy – is a horse of a different color. The restaurant is unabashedly retro. Named after Ms. Turney’s grandparents, who ran a restaurant in Ripon, Wisconsin, the moment you cross the threshold, you feel like you’ve just stumbled into an out-of-control party in your uncle’s rec room. Vintage decor, clunky glassware, and an odd assortment of knickknacks all add to the pleasant illusion of another time and place… as do the updated riffs on a host of classic cocktails.

The food, on the other hand, is retro in name only. In some cases, items listed on the menu simply provide a springboard for the infusion of a host of upscale/updated ingredients; in others, all pretense of culinary reminiscence is simply laid aside – I mean, no one would ever accuse dishes like Seared Sea Scallops with pancetta and Miso Glazed Salmon of pressing too many nostalgic buttons.

Bud and Marilyn's - Falafel crusted cauliflowerThe restaurant itself is a kind of absurd contradiction… a culinary oxymoron, if you will. Bud & Marilyn’s clearly postures itself – as do its various reviewers – as a retro eatery… Yet its best dishes, in my experience, are those that are the least nostalgic… or, more to the point, those that are the least dependent upon the kitchen’s somewhat-less-than-successful attempts to make them au courant.  The above-mentioned Seared Sea Scallops and Miso Glazed Salmon being two very strong cases in point… ditto the Falafel Crusted Cauliflower (pictured). Embellished with serrano chili, cilantro, mint, toasted sesame seeds, splash of lemon, and a cooling cucumber raita, this delicious starter is as contemporary as it gets. It is also – unlike many other items in the restaurant’s repertoire – modestly portioned and marvelously light on the palate.

Bud and Marilyn's - Brick ChickenThe great majority of the dishes I’ve observed here are both heavy and heavy-handed. Heavy with regard to portion-size, preparation, and impact on one’s delicate peristalsis; and particularly heavy-handed with regard to presentation. Take the Grilled “Brick” Chicken (pictured), for example. I’m not one of those critics who believes that everything that proceeds out of the kitchen must resemble a work of art… but I do believe that any item of food ultimately placed before a diner should be at least semi-attractive. However, when this dish hit the table, my first thought was that it bore uncanny resemblance to the regurgitation of an endangered species. To paraphrase that old axiom: “The palate can only appreciate what the eye can endure.” And there are occasions at Bud & Marilyn’s when the eye must endure a great deal. Finesse, it should be noted, is not this restaurant’s strong suit.

Bud and Marilyn' - MeatloafAmong the spruced up retro entrées, the Fontina & Chard Stuffed Meatloaf has the most to recommend it. The hefty loaf is upgraded with Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors’ dry-aged beef and veal, a third-generation meat wholesaler based in North Bergen, New Jersey. The sautéed Swiss chard adds suppleness, the fontina a shot of oozy over-indulgence. The glaze is a ketchup concoction – just like mom used to make – that is caramelized in the oven. The meatloaf itself is a thing of beauty, dense but marvelously moist and beautifully seasoned.

Accompaniments, however, vary in quality… The royal trumpet mushroom gravy presented in a vintage gravy boat (When’s the last time you saw one of those?) is lusciously over-the-top. But Yukon Gold mashed potatoes are thin, watery, and lacking in flavor. And the carrots & peas look like they were dropped onto the plate from some undetermined height. Once again, the devil is in the details – and the kitchen doesn’t quite get it.

Bud and Marilyn's - Choc Peanut Butter Malted Milk Ball CakeDessert-wise, there are a number of ways to go… but nothing quite does the trick like a gargantuan wedge of sinfully decadent chocolate cake layered with peanut butter buttercream and embellished with chocolate ganache and mini-malt balls. If you’re a confirmed lover of chocolate/peanut butter combos, as I am, you will find this outrageously rich dessert simply impossible to resist. And don’t even think about tackling it by yourself, as my dining partner and I barely made a dent. This is a table-sharer if ever there was one… and simply not to be missed.

In many ways, dining at Bud & Marilyn’s is an incredibly frustrating experience. On some occasions, the kitchen acquits itself reasonably well; those irresistible Wisconsin Cheese Curds immediately come to mind, ditto the Warm Buttermilk Biscuits, and the aforementioned Seared Sea Scallops, Miso Glazed Salmon, and Fontina & Chard Stuffed Meatloaf. On the other hand, the kitchen’s current philosophy of presentation appears to be pile it on. The food is surprisingly heavy – on the eye and on the palate – and, in many cases, lacks both focus and finesse.

Bud & Marilyn’s offers diners an interesting culinary journey down memory lane… I just wish there were a few less bumps in the road.

 Bon Appétit!


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