It can sometimes take a few chapters in a chef's career before he can build the restaurant of his dreams. In the case of the Hungry Pigeon, it is a pair of veteran chefs who are responsible for the irrepressibly quirky, handcrafted character that has made this hybrid cafe-resto-bar such a lovable, all-day fixture on Fabric Row.
Scott Schroeder was determined to shed the image — cultivated during his gastropub days at American Sardine Bar and the South Philadelphia Tap Room — that he cooked just "stoner bar food."
At this relaxed corner storefront called Hungry Pigeon serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, he's channeling a more sophisticated approach to updated comfort plates with a cheffy twist, from a perfect upgrade of the retro flat-patty burger at lunch (meat ground on-site, sesame bun baked right there) to a gloriously gamy pigeon at dinner, whey-braised goat Stroganoff, and other platters served on enameled trays and skillets that oblige diners to grab hold and share.
The new "family dinner" $50 menus — built around a centerpiece like turkey pot pie, plus hors d'oeuvres, sides, and dessert further — emphasize the fact that a meal here can feel like a big dinner party.
Pat O'Malley, 33, Schroeder's partner here and one of his old ¡Pasion! cohorts, aspired to get his hands back in dough after years managing the massive bakery at Balthazar in New York City.
His return to small-batch pastry makes me jealous of Queen Village, because Hungry Pigeon is now also my favorite new breakfast haven. The croissants are Philly's best, their whorling layers tanged with cultured butter and honey — even better ribboned with intense chocolate. Brioche sticky buns made with ripe bananas and a vanilla glaze are the stuff of diner dreams. Whole-wheat pancakes resonant with sourdough came laced with cider and apples, which I washed down with good Counter Culture coffee. Add a biscuit with creamy sausage gravy, a breakfast sandwich with juicy chicken sausage on a fresh English muffin, plus a crisp slice of awesome scrapple from John L. King, and it's no wonder I came back for lunch and dinner.
More recently, I've gravitated toward the Pigeon's more healthy — but equally delicious — breakfast options, like the chia pudding bowl with housemade granola and fruit, or the hearty breakfast bowl riff on congee.
It's fascinating to watch this all-day concept effortlessly morph personalities through the various meals without losing its laid-back vibe: from the young moms with children while sunshine streams onto the exposed brick walls and bare-wood tables to the low light and pulsing classic rock that wrap the birdcage ceiling fixtures in back with a more raucous mood at night, when the juice glasses brim with cocktails and natural wines on draft.
Out comes the charred bread to dip into molten Red Cat cheese. Friends clamor around steel pans of tomatillo-braised chicken to build tacos with fresh-pressed tortillas. And then there's the "City Chicken," which isn't chicken at all, but pork kebabs breaded in rye. It's a dish reimagined from Schroeder's Midwestern youth, like a morsel of personal history to lend his latest chapter some soul. We stripped them clean.