Monday, September 19, 2011

Darling's Dinner At The Piazza At Schmidt's

I suppose it was serendipity, divine providence or whatever you want to call it that brought Harry Arnold and myself together. All I know is, based solely on the value of the cheesecake involved; I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

About four years ago I was photographing a wedding. I struck up a jovial conversation with a very charming, very inebriated, voluptuous blonde who suggested a venue for my art. After explaining to me all about her significant other and his brother that owned two dainty cafĂ©’s in Philadelphia called Darling’s, she exclaimed, “I’m The Darling!” She scrawled down the contact info slipped it to me and went about her merry way on the dance floor.

Between the two brother’s, Harry was my connection. We worked together to assemble an art show on his walls. Though a tiny place, it was a huge success. – almost too much of a success. Everyone came out to support, but not only that – to eat! After the show all I heard from friends, family and various others was, “That cheesecake was amazing.” Best of Philly got it right.

So here we are in 2011 and as I walked through The Piazza a few months ago, my boyfriend and I were shocked and elated to see Harry has moved to the big times. Before us was a spacious well-equipped establishment with the words emblazoned on the doors, “Darling’s Diner”. Surrounded by glass on all sides, it stood like a large-scale version of the encasements that hold all those delicious cakes.

I made my inaugural visit this past weekend. It was great to reconnect with the spirited Harry. He buzzes around welcoming and concocting. No task is too big or too small. From my perch at the bar (which by the way is a full service bar), I watched him greet people at the door, assemble tables, supervise staff, bring out food, converse and, of course, give hi-fives.

My sample of hearty, russet potato French fries was satisfyingly garnished with sea salt and a creamy dipping sauce. The hummus and pita bread, of which I am overwhelmingly picky, was in the same league as Wadif’s at Oasis restaurant. Wadif’s is my measuring stick for hummus. So, the fact that it’s even close means buy it. You won’t be disappointed. The pumpkin cheesecake was appealing on many levels. It’s creamy texture made me savor each bite and the subtlety of the pumpkin flavor gave it a lighter, airier taste, making it possible to complete the monstrosity.

Darling’s is the kind of place that you’d stop in, expecting a diner. Don’t be mistaken, you’ll get that - complete with sandwiches, coleslaw, fries, and pies. Yet, the brilliance behind Darling’s is that each dish has a garnish of flavor that sets it apart from your run of the mill diner. You’ll find yourself asking, “is that (insert spice here) I taste?” in an unassuming dish. Really, that goes beyond food – to the service, bar and overall atmosphere.

So, if you find yourself yearning for some diner food, but maybe you’d like a white Russian and one of the best cheesecakes you’ll ever eat in your life too. Then stop by Darling’s.

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