Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bloggers' Bites: Sunday Brunch

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. This Sunday we went to Marathon on 19th and Market to try their renowned brunch. 

On a sunny morning at 10 am, three members of the Penn Appetit blog team set out to find some Belgian waffles. We had a destination in mind: Bonte, an authentic waffle shop in Center City (on 17th St. between Sansom and Walnut.) Elliott, blog editor and past resident of Belgium, was particularly excited to sample these delicacies. Upon arrival at the small basement Bonte, we could tell something was amiss. The cashiers were no longer taking orders; they were short staffed and the waffle batter was sticking. Belgian waffle sampling: delayed. With that plan squashed we continued on in search of sustenance.

We next visited the Philadelphia Chutney Company, a dosa specialty shop that had sadly not yet opened. Finally we reached Marathon Grill at 16th and Sansom and settled in for brunch. Marathon is a group of six restaurants that focuses on local ingredients, some of which are sourced from their own Philadelphia farms. Marathon also happens to be known for its chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes, which all three of us were tempted to order. Of course, as foodies we opted for diversity. Nicole ordered the signature pancakes, Elliott chose the French toast with mascarpone and I opted for the breakfast quesadilla. As the weekend brunch crowd filed in, we discussed everything from classes to attempts at cooking in the dorms to plans for spring break (thinking ahead is key) and more.

After a wait that bordered on too long, our food arrived. The portions were generous and satisfying. The chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes were sweet without being overtly so, with a tender batter that didn’t turn mushy with the addition of syrup. The French toast was well seasoned with the mascarpone adding a tangy richness. My quesadilla featured sharp cheddar, tomatoes, peppers and well-cooked eggs in a wrap. The home fries could have been a tad crisper but for $8.50 I cannot complain. Marathon’s front room is full of windows and as the Sunday morning sunshine streamed in on our flavorful meal, I felt refreshed and ready for the week. The power of a good meal is that it forms friendships, satisfies the soul and opens your horizons. Our trip to Center City took us not to a Belgian waffle, nor an Indian dosa but to somewhere entirely different: a local brunch that reminds us all why we care so gosh darn much about the food we eat. -Abigail Koffler

Brunch was on my mind when I woke up on Sunday. All I could think about was sinking my teeth into a fluffy Belgian waffle courtesy of Bonte’s. Imagine my disappointment when Elliott, Abigail, and I walked into the nondescript store and witnessed Bonte’s two staff members panicking over the broken waffle machine! No matter—the element of surprise only makes for a more exciting foodie adventure. Fortunately, we soon happened upon brunch hotspot Marathon.

Marathon prides itself on adhering to the “buy local” movement, sourcing fresh seasonal products from urban farms and upholding the highest quality of food in all its dishes. I went with the chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes, a house specialty and one of Marathon’s bestsellers. Service was a bit slow (which was expected at peak brunch hour), but flowing conversation made the time pass quickly. When the pancakes arrived at the table, I was stunned by how large they were: the three lofty hotcakes encompassed the entire surface area of the plate. By just looking at the dish, it was hard to identify any semblance of chocolate chips or cookie dough. However, after I generously drizzled syrup on top and tore hungrily into the stack, rich chocolate oozed out and erased any uncertainty I had. I easily could have eaten the same type of dish for dessert. The serving was certainly large enough for two people to enjoy; I had leftovers even after sharing some with my dining companions! My only suggestion is that the added fillings (i.e. chocolate chip and cookie dough) should be distributed more evenly throughout the pancakes. Yet this factor is small potatoes compared to the light, airy pancake batter and fantastic union of sweet flavors. The dish is a truly delicious and decadent treat. Although we didn’t have the chance to try Bonte’s (I’ll have to return when everything’s back up and running!), I was more than happy to satisfy my brunch cravings at Marathon. -Nicole Woon

The true Belgian waffle is so very different from those fluffy things we Americans serve with syrup or whipped cream. Known as liégeoise waffles to the Belgians, these dense, gooey and caramelized treats can be bought from waffle trucks and hole-in-the-wall waffleries all across the small country.

I've heard Bonte Wafflerie and Cafe serves genuine liégeoise waffles. But then, that's just word-of-mouth. When we went this Sunday, this wafflerie was out of their speciality. Apparently their waffles were sticking to the griddle, a problem that you would think a place specializing in waffles would know how to fix, but apparently not. We left without receiving an apology, as did the other customers in line.

Luckily, a few blocks away was Marathon. We settled in for their Sunday brunch, excited to try our respective orders. The wait, almost an hour, was a bit too long for three girls who hadn't eaten breakfast. When the food finally arrived, we dug right in. I feel bad giving the only critical review, but I was disappointed.

I ordered their blueberry mascarpone-stuffed French toast. I'm a fan of French toast with a custard-like interior and a buttery griddled exterior. Marathon's French toast, however, was too dry for my liking. I was hoping the mascarpone would add a rich creaminess, as it does when served at room temperature. However, melting it seemed to make it cheesy and bland. While quite filling, it was nothing to write home about.

But I still had hope! I was excited to try the chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes. I'm a huge cookie dough ice cream fan, and I imagined Marathon's pancakes to be a breakfast incarnation of my favorite dessert. To me, however, the pancakes were much too airy and boring, a dead ringer for the pancakes you get from a Bisquick box. On top of that, the cookie dough clumps were infrequent and large. In fact, they were so large that I ended up eating some pancake, then some cookie dough, and then some pancake again, but never the two combined.

All in all, while I appreciated Marathon's creative brunch concepts, I found the execution lacking. The brunch, while fun, is not worth the $8-$11 spent on each plate. -Elliott Brooks

Photos by Nicole Woon

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