On a 90–degree, stormy night, I found myself squished between skyscrapers a few blocks from City Hall, standing outside a woodsy oasis called Harper’s Garden. Gnarled tangles of wood hung from criss–crossing beams covered in twisting greenery, and a soft yellow glow emanated from the strings of Edison light bulbs, illuminating the rain–soaked exterior with a romantic warmth that’s found more often in neighborhoods like Fishtown or Old City.
The outdoor garden is certainly the main attraction of this restaurant, but the inclement weather forced us to move indoors. Still, the charm continued indoors, with wrought–iron chandeliers and cascading leaves from hanging planters, and small bouquets of flowers placed next to a flickering candle on each table.
Harper’s Garden offers a , with a smattering of dishes listed under categories like snacks, breads, and larger plates. For the first course, my photographer and I shared the Spring Salad. The large portion makes it an easy appetizer to share between two or three patrons, or maybe a light main course for one. The slightly bitter and peppery taste of the mixed greens was balanced by a sweet and light honey vinaigrette. The puffed grains and sunflower sprouts added a bit of heartiness to an otherwise fresh salad. Despite having some difficulty with eating the long–stemmed greens and sprouts, the $10 price was more than reasonable for the size and quality of this salad.
I only ever get the chance to have swordfish when my dad grills it over the summer, so for the main course I decide I must order the Zatar Spice Swordfish. The dish included the fresh summer flavors of tomatoes and zucchini, but it also adds a sweeter tang with what the menu calls a “watermelon jerky.” The texture of the dish was an even blend of crunchy and rich, with some of the tomatoes having reduced into a thicker paste in the base of the rimmed plate. The jerky, however, was unimpressive and unnecessary. With the tomatoes, there was no need for the added sweetness of the jerky, and it reminded me of the artificial fruit leathers found in middle school lunches. Overall though, the fish and vegetables worked well together in a warm end–of–summer meal.
For dessert, Harper’s Garden offers three choices of homemade custards: turmeric, chamomile, and lavender. I chose to have the chamomile, which comes with a warm blueberry cobbler. The custard itself was cool and silky, and reminiscent of the flowery chamomile tea I drink on nights when I have trouble falling asleep. The cobbler, however, was more blueberry than crumble, and the scarce crumble available was often crunchier than the softly baked ones I've had in the past. Nonetheless, the flavors blended well together, turning the custard from a yellow–white to a rich purple tie–dye. This portion of comforting and refreshing dessert is best suited for two to three people.
Having gone to the restaurant for a late dinner, we enjoyed dessert right as the kitchen was getting ready to close. But Harper’s Garden turns into more of a bar scene after 10 p.m., and as we got ready to leave, a jazz trio consisting of a piano, stand–up bass, and drums began to set up to play for the rest of the night. The food at Harper’s Garden is well–crafted and has quality ingredients, but the higher price of the restaurant is really for the romantic ambiance it provides.
TL;DR: Harper’s Garden is on the pricier side, but the quality menu and romantic setting make the expense worth it.
Location: 31 S. 18th St.
Sun–Mon: 12 p.m.–12 a.m.
Wed–Sat: 12 p.m.–2 a.m.