If we made a flowchart on whether or not you should go to Harper’s Garden, it would have one simple question: Is it nice outside? If the answer is no, then there are a bunch of other places we’d recommend instead. But if the answer is yes - if the sun is shining and the temperature is 70 or above - then there’s only one place you should be going for a post-work glass of wine and a few small plates. And that place is Harper’s Garden.
Harper’s Garden is located between Rittenhouse Square and almost every Center City office building, and it’s about 75% patio and 25% indoor space. During the winter, there’s almost no reason to come here, because if Harper’s Garden were La La Land, then the patio would be the combination of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Take it away and you’re left with a depressing two-hour saga inside a small, empty bar area that’s devoid of almost any atmosphere. However, as soon as May hits, all of a sudden every single person you know, from your upstairs neighbor to that person you always see at your coffee shop, is waiting in line for a table under the plant-covered trellis here.
photo credit: Kerry McIntyre
You generally don’t come to Harper’s Garden for the food - you come to hang out in the nice weather after a long day of work with the few people you can still tolerate talking to. But when you don’t want to have three drinks on an empty stomach, stick to the small plates. There’s a kung pao squid dish with Szechuan peanut sauce with exactly the right amount of heat and sweetness to it, oysters with a raspberry vinaigrette that are a no-brainer if you’re sharing with the table, and a tomato and prosciutto pie that’ll go well with whatever drink you happen to be on. It’s all stuff that can be easily divided among a group of people, which is exactly what you want from a place that you’re mostly going to because the weather’s good and it happens to be close to everyone’s office.
The burger is also a solid option if you want something bigger, and at $14 it’s a much better deal than anything you’ll pick from the larger plates - which are generally underwhelming and overpriced. But we’re kind of okay with that, because Harper’s Garden fills a very specific outdoor-drinks-and-small-plates void in Philly, and they do it well. Which is why we don’t need to make a flowchart that looks like the SEPTA map to decide whether you should go here. Just check your weather app, float the idea to your other three coworkers who leave at exactly 5:01pm every day, and save the more complicated flowcharts for later in the night.
Kung Pao Squid
Almost all of the small plates here are perfect for sharing with a bunch of friends, and the kung pao squid is no exception. It’s covered in a spicy Szechuan peanut sauce, paired with sweet pickles, and one of our favorite things here.
Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
Perfectly fine meatballs that are good for sharing. There’s nothing super special about them, but if you’re a few drinks in and need a base layer before you order your next round, these will do the trick.
Pan-Seared Mushroom Dumplings
These mushroom dumplings come in an artichoke-pesto sauce that we’d like to trap inside a snowglobe and shake every night before we go to bed. Another good dish for the table.
Shrimp And Grits Croquettes
These are just bad. They’re grey inside, which is not a natural color for any food, and the shrimp are tiny and slimey. Avoid these at all costs.
The ’Merica Burger
If all of your friends want “a few bites of something small,” but you came with an actual appetite, the burger is a good way to go. It tastes kind of like a double quarter-pounder from McDonald’s, with diced onion, cooper cheese, and ketchup, but unlike the one from McDonald’s, you won’t feel like sht for four hours after you eat it.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich
If burgers aren’t your thing, the next best option for a bigger meal is the fried chicken sandwich. It has smoked bacon, jalapeno jack, bread and butter pickles, and special sauce, all on grilled milk bread, and your friends will all realize they’re actually hungry once they see it on the table.