What’s On My Plate: Q Kitchen + Lounge

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Noisy and severe in its first incarnation as Globar and a cross between Chelsea and "That ‘70s Show!" in its second as Bump, about the only thing that unites the three incarnations of the bar/lounge/restaurant at 13th and Locust – besides those glowing liquor shelves and ceiling lights, that is – is decent food at reasonable prices. As Bump had moved away from that paradigm when it switched to a small-plate/large-plate menu, I had hoped that its latest incarnation, the glittery-yet-subdued space that is Q Kitchen + Lounge, would return to the old formula for success.

My hopes rose a bit when I found out that Q’s owners also own Pandora’s Lunchbox on Walnut Street. As that bright, cheerful lunch counter doesn’t stay open late, some of you may not be familiar with it, but good food at reasonable prices is Pandora’s stock in trade. I assumed that they would do no less at Q, even with a more upscale menu.

I finally got to test my assumptions during the Gayborhood 40th anniversary celebration when the planets suddenly aligned and I found myself dining there twice in one day. Sunday brunch I spent with a family visiting from out of town, and later on, I had an early dinner with a good friend. I am pleased to report that not only were my assumptions proven correct, the new owners have dramatically improved the restaurant they inherited.

The new owners have brought in a new executive chef, Wayne Whiteside, and retooled the menu to offer what they call "global cuisine with local flair." Mediterranean- and Japanese-inspired items dominate the dinner menu, but there are touches of India, the Caribbean and Latin America as well. And everything on the menu is made with meats and produce locally sourced from Lancaster County.

The item my dining companions raved about, however, would not look out of place at all on the menu at Pandora’s: the Soon to be Famous Turkey BLT ($10), available at both brunch and dinner. Based on their reactions and a sample they shared with me, Ought to be Famous Now is more like it. Thick slices of juicy roast turkey breast, Swiss cheese, cranberry jam and avocado mayonnaise all combine with crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato and hearty whole-grain bread to produce a sandwich that didn’t have to be this good.

My off-menu brunch special, a petite filet with eggs and asparagus, was of similarly high quality.  Everything came out just right – the steak medium rare as I had requested, the asparagus just tender-crisp, the scrambled eggs light and fluffy.

Later that afternoon, I had another dish that reflects both the owners’ lunchroom heritage and Q’s global ambition: the Greek Burger ($10), one of those Mediterranean-inspired items. In this case, what made the burger "Greek" was the addition of Mediterranean herbs and spices and feta cheese. Imagine one of the better local steakhouse burgers as prepared by a gyro shop owner and you should get the concept. The burger was a delicious variation on an old standby, but unlike the steak, the burger I requested medium rare came from the kitchen done medium well. It was still juicy, however, so I was willing to let that slip-up slide.

The environment at Q is much more conducive to relaxing and lingering than before. The cushy leather armchairs at the dining tables made me feel as if I were dining in a friend’s family room instead of a restaurant, and the energetic but not insistent music reinforced the mood. Our servers were friendly and attentive, yet the service was unhurried.

Vegetarians will be pleased to discover that the revamped menu at Q also includes a selection of vegetarian appetizers and a vegetarian curry in addition to the usual salads.

Besides myself, our brunch party consisted of a family of four with two teenage boys. Taking straight people to "gay" restaurants, while less fraught with potential for embarrassment than in the past, nonetheless remains a hit-or-miss proposition, often due to factors having nothing to do with the clientele. Q passed that test with flying colors. Your heterosexual friends should be equally impressed when you decide to take them out for a special occasion or a casual dinner at Q Kitchen + Lounge. As for me, I’ll be back to make a few more stops on their locally sourced world tour soon.

Q Kitchen and Lounge, 1234 Locust Street (at 13th), Philadelphia; 215-732-1800; www.qphilly.com. Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m., and for brunch on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Happy hour appetizer specials ($5 each, 2 for $9) Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Entrée prices $15-$22, sandwiches $10-11, salads $7-$12, appetizers $7-$10; Sunday brunch menu items $9. Reservations accepted online via OpenTable. All major credit cards accepted.

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