Think of the classic sports films - Rudy, The Blindside, Rocky. While they’re all great, inspiring movies that make us feel good, they also tend to be repetitive and a little formulaic. Try to imagine a remake of Rocky where he’s a trust fund baby who’s had all the best trainers and resources at his disposal, and then loses the big match. No studio would sign off on that script.
Much like a classic sports movie, the food at Helm is somewhat predictable - which makes your experience here just a little bit less exciting than it could be. But just like watching an entire stadium shout “Rudy,” a meal here will still make you feel warm and happy inside.
Helm is a New American BYOB that sits on a residential block in Kensington - we imagine you can already tell where this plot is going. The restaurant sources most of its ingredients locally and has a cozy dining room. There’s a chalkboard menu that changes seasonally and features lots of radishes and turnips, and there’s a pleasant playlist in the background with indie up-and-comers that your coolest friend would give a half-hearted nod of approval to upon hearing.
Despite feeling like you’ve seen all of this before, the food stands out from a lot of the other BYOBs around the city, and pretty much everything they serve will surprise you in a good way. There’s a delicious glazed carrot dish served over goat cheese that looks like a bunch of orange mountain peaks poking through the clouds, a buttery polenta topped with tender oxtail for only $8, and white bean ravioli with brisket and cabbage that reminds us of a deconstructed deli pastrami sandwich in the best way possible.
Other dishes are good, but forgettable - kind of like the fact that Vince Vaughn makes an appearance in Rudy as running back Jamie O’Hara. The bowl of radishes and prosciutto in horseradish is too salty, and there’s a piece of arctic char that you’ll find yourself eating around to get to the sweet and tangy chile-lime glazed squash underneath. But what you’ll notice is that those forgettable dishes only make up a small portion of the otherwise great menu.
If you’ve been to one New American BYOB in Philly, you’ve basically been to them all. But if Helm happens to be in your neighborhood, then you should be thrilled. It’s a great place for a weeknight date or dinner with your family, and you can almost always get a last-minute reservation. You probably won’t cry from how moving your meal was, but you might leave feeling like you have a new restaurant to root for.
The menu changes often, but here are some dishes we’ve seen on our trips to Helm.
This carrot dish is the only thing that’s been on the menu since Helm opened, and we can understand why. It’s simple, with a few carrots sitting on top of goat cheese, but it’s a sweet and refreshing way to start your meal here.
In theory, the combination of radish, prosciutto, and horseradish should work together. In this dish, it it’s sort of messy, the prosciutto pieces are too big to eat in one bite, and it tastes unbalanced. Skip it - there are lots of better things here.
One of our favorite dishes - it’s sweet from the mandarin, earthy from the parsnip, and salty from the short rib shredded throughout.
This is a side dish, but it’s about the same size as the small plates that take up the first half of the chalkboard menu. The polenta itself is buttery and salty, and it’s topped with tender pieces of oxtail and broccoli rabe. Split it with the people at your table.
The white bean ravioli is surrounded by tender brisket and cabbage, and when you take a bite of all of it together, it tastes like the pastrami sandwich at your favorite deli.
The arctic char itself is a little boring, but the butternut squash underneath is sitting in a delicious bright green chili-lime glaze. You shouldn’t order the entire dish for a few pieces of squash, though.
This combo wouldn’t be our first instinct, but it turns out that black pepper in cheesecake isn’t only interesting - it’s also really good. It gives the creamy, light cheesecake a bit of a floral taste, and complements the sweet pineapple on top perfectly.