Location: 29-31 E. Gay St., West Chester
Contact: (610) 738-3948, thesocialwc.com
Cuisine: Modern American cuisine with traditional comforts and a Cajun/Creole twist.
Cost: Appetizers $4.99-$11.99, entrées $6.99-$19.99.
Atmosphere: Jazz club meets college bar.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday.
Extras: Live music Wednesday-Saturday, Tuesday-night poker tournaments, and Monday-night country line dancing.
On a main street overrun with restaurants, bars and collegiate hangouts, a new eatery can go unnoticed. And the Social Lounge hasn’t done itself any favors, with its nonexistent marketing campaign and seemingly unfinished website. In the thick of the hustle and bustle on West Chester’s East Gay Street, the space has been through a series of new owners and concepts since Spence Café moved out a few years ago.
Enter top-notch local chef Dan Funk. At the Social Lounge, he’s assembled a solid, made-from-scratch menu of modern American cuisine with a Cajun/Creole slant. The Crescent City influence shouldn’t come as a surprise. Funk’s background includes stints at West Chester’s still-thriving High Street Caffe and Media’s now-defunct New Orleans Café. His passion for the culinary style comes across in spicy, well-seasoned entrées and blackened preparations, not to mention the hints of slow-smoked richness in the grilled meats and creamy grits.
Dimly lit with a jazz-clubby feel, the Social Lounge tenuously straddles the line between student hangout and gastropub. We found the service friendly, if a little inconsistent. Seasonal sidewalk seating is becoming increasingly popular. Inside, tables are sparse, and the central focus is the wraparound bar. A stairwell and a small stage effectively split the space in two, the other side offering tables and a few couches for lounging.
One look at the plates coming out of the kitchen, and you’ll see where Funk’s true commitment lies. While many of the dishes are on the heavier side (think creamy sauces and tons of cheese), it is possible to go healthier. For a nice balance of sweet and savory, try the Granny Smith apple salad, with herbed goat cheese, candied walnuts, sun-dried cranberries and raspberry-walnut vinaigrette. Dipping a spoon into seemingly bottomless bowl of tomato-and-basil soup revealed tender chunks of fresh tomatoes whirled into a velvety broth with ribbons of fresh basil.
The nightly specials are creative, and prices are surprisingly reasonable, in light of the generous portions. Perched atop two thick, buttered pieces of brioche toast, our blackened crab cake sandwich was spilling over with fresh lump crabmeat and a generous hit of spice, though we could’ve done without the bacon and cheddar cheese. The andouille meatloaf was also served open-faced, over grilled cornbread. It was topped with a tangy barbecue sauce and served with creamy garlic mashed potatoes.
It’s obvious that Funk takes extra care with his preparation, from the unforgettable homemade potato chips to the ultra-fresh pico de gallo served with the chipotle-pork-and-chorizo burrito. The burgers rock, too.
Here’s hoping the Social Lounge can get its identity crisis sorted out. That way, more diners will come to recognize the place for what it is: a good, sometimes-great neighborhood restaurant that deserves a devoted customer base.
THE SKINNY: Whatever it wants to be, the Social Lounge has plenty of good things happening in the kitchen. Funk loves to showcase his enthusiasm for Cajun/Creole cooking, but he doesn’t get carried away with it, either. So, chances are, the Social Lounge will leave you pleasantly surprised—especially when the bill comes.
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