Jones on 700 Chestnut Street, a restaurant just six years young, offers diners a unique step back in time. What other eatery blends the down-home cooking of the Midwest 1950s with the fun and flashy décor of the 1970s Brady Bunch era?
As I walk into Jones, I can’t miss the enormous retro 1950’s beach scene that serves as a back-drop to the bar. A brown-haired bartender immediately smiles and ccomes to my service. Everyone seems so happy and vibrant as I watch laughing customers, in a variety of age groups, sitting in their tweed, avocado-colored booths, amid cherry-stained wood and stacked, stone brick walls. Modern lighting fixtures twinkle from above, and a nightlight shimmers from every table. Others dining spaces house rust-colored, pleather swivel chairs tucked into teal table-tops, with a crackling see-through fireplace nearby. Outdoor dining is also available, and a mezzanine could seat eighteen guests comfortably for private parties.
I scan the wine list; red wines include a Bridlewood Syrah, Estancia Pinot Noir, and Santa Julia Malbec. Whites include a La Francesca Pinot Grigio and an M Picard Vouvray. The bartender offers me a taste of both a Riesling and a Gewurztraminer, but I settle on the Durbanville Sauvignon Blanc, which is aromatic, dry, and refreshing.
Cocktail names on the menu make me want to put flowers in my hair and walk barefoot in the sand: Proud Mary, Hound Dog, A Happy, Bug Juice, Cloud Nine. When my partner arrives, he wants a tasty soft drink and is offered a Jones soda pop in three fun-filled flavors: Crushed Melon, Berry Lemonade, and Cream Soda. He opts for the Cream Soda, which our bartender retrieves from the icebox, pops, and pours.
My partner and I take a sneak peak at the dinner menu while sitting at the teal-colored bar. Appetizers include such items as Cheese Pierogies, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and Potato Pancakes. There is a Cobb Salad and a Crispy Calamari Salad. Some of the entrees include Rigatoni, Thanksgiving Dinner, Meatloaf, and a Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. But the menu also contains some sandwiches and smaller fare such as Chicken Noodle Soup, Tomato Soup with grilled cheese, a Beef Brisket Sandwich, and a Tuna Melt on rye. Many of these are child-friendly items, even though a children’s menu is not offered.
The bartender can see we are getting hungry and asks if we would like to be seated, and with an affirmative, she nods to the perky hostess, who greets us with that same golly gee smile. She beckons for us to follow her to our table. She speaks about how swell the food is on the way to the table, and once we sit down, hands us our menus and wishes us a pleasant meal.
After less than a minute, our waitress, Imane, magically appears, wearing a semi-short skirt, knee socks, and a warm Florence Henderson smile. After introducing herself and providing a detailed explanation of the specials, Imane takes our order. She then thanks us and mentions that she will, "get those appetizers right out to us." Only two minutes later, we are brought a basket with two warm, square semolina dinner rolls and a small ramekin of whipped butter. Shortly after, our appetizers appear.
I order the Chicken and Rock Shrimp Dumplings. These are served with a side of sweet soy and chili oil. Four succulent, half-dollar-sized dumplings, garnished with cilantro and chive shavings await my hungry palate. These warm, doughy delicacies, dipped in the accompanying sauce, taste sweet and buttery in my mouth. The dumplings are soft to the bite and the meat inside is crumpled and fresh. The sprinkle of fresh cilantro adds a crunchy tanginess to the dish.
While I choose Asian comfort food, my partner chooses his comfort food Mexican style, ordering the Seared Tuna Tacos. Two hard tacos are filled with a chunky avocado relish, citrusy cilantro, spicy sashimi-grade tuna, and a sprinkling of shredded cheese. The dish is a creative alternative to sushi, and a successful combination of both warm and cool fresh ingredients.
Less than five minutes after we finish our appetizers, another server returns with our meals. He seems to know instinctively that I have ordered the Gumbo and my partner the fish because he places the meals correctly without even asking.
My partner savors a bite of the large portion of the crunchy Pistachio Crusted Tilapia put before him. The fish is served in a shallow pool of warm and tangy, but slightly sweet honey-orange-butter sauce, which adds a zest to the mild fish flavor. Beside the fish is a heavily cooked spinach mix seasoned with garlic, as well as sticky white rice that soaks up the essence of the sauce.
My Cajun-style Shrimp Gumbo comes without garnish in a large white bowl. Six, large, freshly seared shrimp circle this dish, which contains a mixture of okra, corn, peppers, and celery in a brown, gooey gumbo sauce, peppered with small slices of spicy, reddish andouille sausage. The spice is a bit overpowering, but Imane keeps my water glass full. The bowl contains a sufficient serving, which I finish without feeling overwhelmingly full.
During our meal, the manager, Josh Sapienza, surveys the customers and tables, taking in the scene. He gives us the skinny on dessert, mentioning that the pastry chef is “out of this world.” He also conveys the kitchen’s philosophy, explaining that Chef Steven Petrecca, along with sous chefs Andrew Wagner, Rick Taraborelli, and Alberto Convento, prepares almost every item from scratch each day, “from every sauce, cookie, and gourmet sorbet and ice cream to our turkey burgers and crabcakes.” Sapienza assures us, “our focus is really on the highest quality, fresh ingredients prepared in a familiar and approachable way and served by the most hospitable group of emotionally co-dependant hipsters.”
Petrecca, who attended the New York Restaurant School, brings with him experience gained at some of New York City's most highly acclaimed restaurants, including The Vinegar Factory and Jerry's in SoHo.
According to Sapienza, the Jones’ site was formerly a gift & card shop. The restaurant was part of a bold move to revitalize a struggling neighborhood in its location between Rittenhouse Square/Mid Town and Old City/Society Hill. “We have since seen quite a commitment from our neighbors and other restaurateurs,” Sapienza says, “ Jones, itself, was developed by Stephen Starr, whose other unique Philly eateries include Buddakan, Continental Midtown, Continental Old City, Pod, and Morimoto.
When my partner and I finish dinner, Imane clears our plates, cleans the crumbs from the table, and asks if we are interested in dessert. We peruse the dessert menu, considering such items as the Duncan Hines Chocolate Layer Cake served with a cold glass of milk, the Berry Big Waffle Sundae which included a fresh-baked waffle, mixed berries and vanilla ice cream, or the Peanut Butter Pie with caramelized banana and whipped cream. But when Imane tells us of the Chocolate Mambo “Tuxedo” dessert, how can we refuse?
The Chocolate Mambo Tuxedo contains a fresh sweet strawberry atop a fluffy mound of white vanilla mouse, which sits upon a thin slice of chocolate cake base. The whole concoction comes covered by a thin, hard milk-chocolate shell with vanilla chocolate stripes. A sweet strawberry glaze decorates the white plate below. On the side sits a large, clever chocolate-covered strawberry decorated to resemble a tuxedo.
The dessert waxes unique like the theme, furnishings, and the overall feel of Jones. If you have a chance to take a step back in time, book on over to Jones at 700 Chestnut Street. Jones’ location, décor, and the upbeat, groovy staff, along with the individualized comfort-food menu make the restaurant a pleasant dining trip back in time for couples and families, as well as for those trendy single hipsters.