by R. Eric Thomas
Even if you’ve never eaten at Jon’s Bar & Grille, you know it. The bumblebee-colored bulls-eye Larry Fine mural on the side of the restaurant looms over South Street like a tribute to the patron saint of shenanigans. That’s an actual saint, by the way. This new Pope is doing all kinds of things. In any case, shenanigans are what you’re likely to find on the corner of 3rd and South that Jon’s occupies. It’s situated across the street from drunk-munchies staple Lorenzo’s, a brightly lit headshop and an oddly successful hat shop (honestly they’ve stayed open for years just selling hats. Only hats. For your head. America is amazing!). On any given day and far into the night, you’re likely to encounter literally anything outside of Jon’s doors. South Street is known for many things, but culinary delights hasn’t always ranked. With a newly refocused menu and a commitment to an extensive quality beer selection, Jon’s seems to be trying to change that.
I sidled up to a bar a little after 9 on a Wednesday and sat between two couples enjoying a little nosh. When I dine alone I like to sit next to people on dates so I can listen to their conversations. It’s like dinner and a romcom. Yes, it’s creepy; no I’m not sorry about it. The couple on my right were mumblers, which I have no time for. It’s just rude, really. Jon’s has such a chill ambiance: the lights are bright, the sound is low. It should make for perfect eavesdropping. But apparently these people were not interested in sharing their sweet nothings with a third. Their loss. The couple on my left were not as circumspect. One got the manager’s attention and called across the bar, “I’ll have the beer that’s my namesake: Old Heathen.” Well, well, I thought. The plot thickens.
Jon’s is all about the beer. The manager told me they regularly seek out brews you likely won’t find anywhere else in the city, including the Blanche de Bruxelles, an impossibly light witbier, that seems perfect for sipping on Jon’s ample patio space in the summer. Should summer ever come again.
I found myself sitting in front of the tap for Southern Tier Crème Brulee, an imperial stout that filled the air with the aroma of caramelized sugar. It smelled like a confectionary, which is not a complaint. It’s just nice to find a bar/restaurant that doesn’t smell like the tale end of a Saturday night.
I shook the sugary dreams of dessert from my head and focused on the task at hand: spying on the couple on my left. The woman took a sip of her date’s Old Heathen. “This beer matches your personality: sweet but bitter.” I stifled a laugh. The first step of eavesdropping is playing it cool. I jotted a note in my notebook that read “Don’t let this charming couple dominate your review.” And I’m actually just now reading that note. It looks like that ship has sailed.
The woman told the manager, “I’m having a conflict. He wants a burger and I want ribs. But I also want a burger.” The manager pointed out that from Monday through Thursday Jon’s runs a buy one burger, get one burger free deal. “How’s your conflict now?” he quipped. Nothing solves a dilemma like free meat. That’s not even a double entendre; that’s just the truth.
I found myself persuaded by the deal, too, even though as a solo diner I didn’t really have a use for a free burger. Well, that’s not true. I always have a use for a free burger. Always. I’ll pull a Kristen Bell at the Oscars: throw it in my purse and keep on moving. But I was trying to act civilized in front of my new favorite couple. I vacillated between the 3 Stooges Burger, which boasted smoked mozzarella, bacon and sautéed onions, and the Mesquite Burger. I chose the latter because it has avocado and I’m all about health.
This burger is the truth! Don’t believe me—my new couple friends also got it and flipped out about it. Sharp cheddar, applewood bacon and the aforementioned avocado topped the huge patty and the whole thing was accompanied by a mesquite mayo. I am such a sucker for a good aioli. If someone proposed to me with a ring topped with a little ramekin of spicy sauce I would immediately say yes. And then I would grab a side of fries and go to town. This is a strange scenario. I’m just saying, don’t be shy about the mesquite mayo. I used it on my burger, I used it on my fries, I snuck a little in my pocket for later. Don’t be shy!
I probably ate the burger in 5 minutes. I was starving and it was delicious. It was a hefty portion but I’m also a para-professional eater. I mean, I don’t do it competitively, just compulsively. And it’s my para-professional opinion that Jon’s is a surprisingly welcome, totally delicious find on a stretch of South Street known for booze and bands. It’s chill on weeknights and rarely on a wait even on the nicest day due to ample seating indoors and out. And if that’s not reason enough to stop in, remember this: they will give you a burger for free. You buy one, and they will just give you another one. America is the best!
When I looked up from my plate, I noticed my couple friends had also devoured their meals. The man turned to his lady, “I like how when we first started dating, you’d take two bites and then say you’re full. Now your plate is clean and you’ve got your hands on mine.” I leaned over and said, “That’s how you know she’s marriage material, friendo. Now breakout that aioli engagement ring!”
R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) is a playwright, stand-up dramedian and teaching artist. He has been called “one of the most talented storytellers in Philly” by the Philadelphia Weekly. He is the author of four produced plays, including “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, Baltimore) and “The Affair” (LateNite Theatre, New York City). His solo show, “Will You Accept This Friend Request?” premiered to a sold out run in November 2011 as part of the First Person Festival. “Overexposed: A Slightly Awkward Peep Show”, a three-person show Eric co-created with Daniel Student and Jennifer Macmillan was produced by Quince Productions and played a sold-out run in February 2012.
Eric has read or performed for Kevin Allison’s RISK! with Janeane Garofalo, The Soundtrack Series, Yum’s the Word, BalletX, Jaime Fountaine’s Second Stories at the Dive, Queer Memoir, “Live at Kelly Writers House” on WXPN and First Person Arts Story Slams, at which he has twice won Best Presentation. His writing has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, Columbia University’s The Collection, thinkingdance.net and The Q Review.
He has opened for comedian Kelli Dunham at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn and returned to Stonewall with Kelli in a new two-person comedic storytelling show in February 2012. He was honored to be asked to speak at the 2011 TEDxPhilly.
He can be heard weekly on the roundtable storytelling podcast, The World Exists, available on iTunes, Stitcher and at TheWorldExists.com.