There has been more than smoke and bubbles on the tasting plates at Marigold Kitchen since former employees Tim Lanza and Andrew Kochan bought the West Philadelphia destination from Robert Halpern in June.

]My favorite of the 13 courses on December's $90 menu, in fact, was downright earthy.

A tiny tiger-striped wooden bowl comes with creamy "popcorn grits" made from actual popcorn that's soaked in buttered water, then pressed through a sieve.

On top, the chefs add sweetbreads, marinated for two days in Elixr espresso, sauteed, and then deglazed with birch beer and tiny bits of smoky country ham. It's a superbly satisfying modernist ode to red-eye gravy, and an unexpected (perhaps unintended) nod to the New Southern creations of another past Marigold chef, Erin O'Shea.

It's assuring proof, though, that this Marigold crew is pushing forward.

- Craig LaBan
Veal sweetbreads, red-eye gravy, and popcorn, Marigold Kitchen, 501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699.