Raise your hand if you think 9 South Front Street is cursed? OK, so it’s not a stop on the Haunted Pub Crawl or anything, but in the last few years downtown regulars have seen this site change hands faster than ordering a shot of Jameson at Slainte. Even when the current spot seemed to be rocking steady, it was only a matter of time before patrons were peeking through the windows of a vacant building and wondering who was next up at the (literal and metaphorical) plate.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Caffe Phoenix thrived for over two decades in the very same space which, by the way, is undoubtedly one of the best locations on the block.
So, the question on my mind, when I arrived to its current tenant, Platypus & Gnome: Are you up for the challenge?
I did my research on P&G well before opening day, and one quote from the owner stuck with me in answering the obvious query—what’s the deal with the name?—inn an interview. He noted it had an element of intrigue and mystery, and really seemed to outline who the restaurant was and what they did. I’m all for a cryptic name (hint, hint: you won’t find Rosa Bianca on Facebook), but this explanation made me feel like I just walked into a wall. I had my fingers crossed for a brilliantly bizarre story about how the owners bred platypus and how the chef got his culinary degree under a team of professionally trained gnomes. So imagine my surprise when I discovered the name simply appeared to be pulled out of a strange, hat.
Look, P&G, call yourself Princess Consuela Bananahammock for all I care. I’m just in it for the food! And who can have food without drink?
I kicked off my meal with P&G’s poblano pepper sour—a strong blend of Maker’s Mark, smoky poblanos, and tart housemade sour mix. The bar scene in this location has always beamed with potential, and luckily P&G brought the swag (and the mixologist) to match. Most importantly, props to the owners for tapping a sizable medley of local beers—namely WBC and a handful from Waterline. For a casual, yet trendy, happy-hour pit stop on thirsty Thursday, belly up to the bar, browse the craft selection, and bring on the bacon.
Got guests for the weekend? Here’s how to do Wilmington’s bacon-and-beer scene right. When college buddies drop in for a surprise visit, it’s off to Hell’s Kitchen for a pint of pork and PBRs. When the parentals plan a trip to help redecorate the house, treat them to specialty cocktails and candied Bacon at P&G. This salty starter of thick-cut, smoked bacon is sticky sweet and drenched in a syrupy maple-bourbon glaze. Warning: Finger-licking ahead, so chose dining partners wisely!
As far as other apps go: For a light but uber satisfying dish, the vegetarian black bean chili will stick to the ribs in cooler months. It was hard to believe this hearty bowl was meat-free, and I was certain the rich, buttery cornbread was made of gold.
The fried green tomatoes had a lot of hype online but didn’t leave a major impression. The coating was crisp, but the tomatoes were sliced a bit on the thin side and offered more crust than green tomato. The roasted red pepper aoili served alongside offered a nice zing, but with nothing else to make the plate pop, the Southern specialty fell a little short. My advice: Get seconds of cornbread instead.
My daily pork meter had yet to hit its max, so I ordered their bacon burger upon my waitress’ recommendation. This naughty handheld featured a juicy pork belly-infused patty, topped with sweet bacon jam, smoked gouda and, yes, more bacon. Saying it’s rich is an understatement; there was basically an entire oinker on my plate. Anyone craving a greasy, decadent dinner need this ticket. The burger was slightly underdone (taking it from medium rare to rare status), but I would always rather have this error than the overcooked end of the spectrum.
The side Caesar—a two-dollar upcharge—wasn’t overly memorable. But the full entrée version (blackened with protein or portobellos) sounded much more interesting. The crisp hand-cut fries, however, I could definitely get on board with.
Up next was the kefta sandwich. This pressed pita panini was stuffed with lamb meatballs, pepper sauce, cherry tomatoes, grilled red onions, and Greek yogurt. I was hoping for a deeper flavor from the Harissa (an African hot chili pepper paste). Diners who want spice should ask for additional sauce on the side. The meatballs were savory, tender and had that gamey tang of seasoned lamb. Unfortunately, they rolled out of the sandwich the minute I took my first bite—but other than that and the red onions being sliced too thick, the flavors stacked up well.
The lemony, garlicky quinoa tabbouleh was the perfect pairing for this exotic dish. Although the grains had a severely al dente-like-bite to them. I’m not sure if the undercooking was intentional, but I would choose this texture over mushiness any day.
All-in-all, no major misses in the land of Platypus & Gnome. But I wouldn’t hate it if the kitchen sprinkled a bit more thoughtfulness into their execution.
Also, cornbread for president.