I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.
So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?
I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.
The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.
Dinner service is new: as of August, they’re serving dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Brunch is every day except Monday, until three. We’re regular brunch customers. The Irish breakfast is Joe’s favorite: the variety of sausages, baked beans, grilled tomato and soda bread are fresh, hearty and savory. I’ve enjoyed the huevos rancheros, which come on two crispy deep-fried tortillas, but my standby is eggs and bacon. Seriously. The fresh eggs make a real flavor difference; the turkey bacon, my concession to health, is fresh and delicious and actually made of real meat. I always ask for potato bread, a paratha-like triangle of golden goodness made from mashed potatoes. Prices range from $3-4 for a basic two-egg plate to around $10 for lunch sandwiches.
We tried dinner for the first time last night. It was a Friday night, and things were fairly quiet, though I’ve seen the place packed on Saturday nights. We sat at a small table tucked away in the back, and were tended to by a smart and highly professional male server who clearly knew and cared about the quality of the food.
We started with a tuna tartare appetizer, which was beautifully presented with a stack of light, not-at-all-greasy sesame wonton chips, dabs of fiery Sriracha aioli and a slice of avocado. We were won over immediately by the high quality of the tuna– we expected it to be decent, but it was top-notch stuff. Like eating rubies, I tell you. We didn’t let a bite go to waste.
Entrees continued the trend. I ordered the seafood coddle, a wide bowl stacked high with fish, mussels, clams, shrimp, potatoes and Irish bacon, all soaking in a rich, garlicky pot liquor. Two slices of rustic homemade wheat bread came on the side for dipping. I’d almost forgotten what real wheat bread tasted like. What impressed me about this dish was the details. There was no grit in any of the shellfish. None of the potatoes were at all underdone, a common problem in this kind of dish. And I noticed that the garlic was mild, flavorful purple garlic, a sign that care is being taken in choosing ingredients.
Joe ordered the applewood-smoked pork chop. He’s not normally big on pork chops, and when Joe orders something he’s not normally into, it’s a sign that he’s willing to trust the chef. In this case, his trust paid off. He got a thick, juicy chop, cooked to medium, aromatic with applewood smoke. It was accompanied with tangy garlic spinach, fresh sweet potates, and spiced cooked apples with bacon, an unusual combination that meshed beautifully with the flavors of the pork chop.
Desserts were difficult to choose: Ida Mae’s ice creams are all homemade, and the fruit is fresh and local. I got the homemade brownie with Bailey’s ice cream and caramel and raspberry sauce. The brownie was fairly run-of-the-mill and a little on the dry side, but the Bailey’s ice cream was excellent and the sauces were clearly homemade as well. Joe ordered mascarpone cheesecake with cabernet-soaked strawberries, definitely a wise choice. The mascarpone made for a delicately flavored cheesecake, and the strawberries were ripe and flavorful enough not to be overwhelmed by their delicious bath in wine.
The dinner prices are a little steep for Fishtown, but if Ida Mae’s were in Center City it would be a bargain. Both breakfast and dinner have high-quality vegetarian options, and are friendly to gluten-free diners. It’s BYOB (and no credit cards). This visit was a payday whim, but next time we’ll plan ahead and bring a nice bottle of Belgian beer to go with the seafood coddle. We will most certainly be back.
[where: 2302 E Norris St, Philadelphia PA 19125]