Think of the classic sports films—Rocky, Friday Night Lights, Major League, and Rudy. 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 Rudy where they tell the more realistic version of the story where nobody did the jersey thing, or the fact that carrying him off the field was actually a joke. 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 arena 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. The restaurant sources most of its ingredients locally and has a cozy dining room with a chalkboard menu that changes seasonally and features lots of radishes and turnips. There’s also 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.
photo credit: Kerry McIntyre
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 and beet dish drenched in a mole that looks like a bunch of orange mountain peaks poking through the clouds, creamy grits topped with tender chicken, and ravioli with peppers and lamb that reminds us of a deconstructed gyro 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 squid, apple, and fennel has no distinctive flavor and there are scallops topped with cabbage that you’ll find yourself eating around to get a layer of buttery spaetzle that’s beneath it. But what you’ll notice is that those forgettable dishes only make up a small portion of the otherwise great $55 three-course tasting menu.
If you’ve been to one New American BYOB in Philly, you’ve basically been to them all. But if you live nearby Helm, 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 like the end of Friday Night Lights, 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.
Beets, Smoked Carrots, Mole
This is a simple dish of charred carrots that are mixed with some stewed beets, and all covered with a spicy and earthy mole. It’s a light and sweet way to start your meal here.
Chicken, Grits, Marinara
In theory, the combination of chicken, grits, and a spoonful of marinara shouldn't work together. And this messy dish proves the opposite. The mix of blackened chicken, smooth grits, and the tangy blend of sweet basil sauce surprisingly works.
Ravioli, Sweet Peppers, Lamb
You may have to play a game of Where’s Waldo to find the ravioli with this dish. That’s because is stacked underneath a pile of sweet peppers and huge chunks of tender lamb. It’s drenched in a stop-sign-red and garlicky tomato glaze that seeps into the doughy pouches nicely.
Intergalactic Cheese Danish, Cranberry, Apple
This is a simple cheese danish with a few bits of sweet fruit you’d find in an orchard. But between the flaky texture of the crust and light cheesecake-like filling, it’s also really good.