Reporter's Notebook: An autumn start for Harvest

After a VIP preview party on Thursday night, Harvest will officially open to the public on Sunday

· September 28, 2012, 1:15 am

Michael Chien | DP

Guests gathered at Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar in an invite-only preview party, where they sampled cocktails and appetizers. The restaurant will open to the public Sunday night and will host a public preview party a few weeks later.


Upscale casual was always one of those things I couldn’t pinpoint. Is it upscale, or is it casual?

But Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar embodies the contradiction well.

About 600 guests and I dined at the new farm-to-table restaurant at 40th and Walnut streets last night at a VIP preview party. It was the first time the restaurant fired up its wood grill oven and poured the cocktails. It was also the first time plates were dropped and wine was spilled.

But that’s just how the restaurant business goes.

Harvest will officially open to the public on Sunday night. It will also host a grand opening party to the public a few weeks later.

A proud owner, Dave Magrogan called the opening night “fantastic.” He entertained his guests and had a long list of people and organizations to thank, including Penn.

“I want to thank the University of Pennsylvania for being a wonderful landlord and partner,” he said. “And putting up with us.”

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Harvest’s menu of fresh ingredients from local sustainable farms has vegetarian options as well as dishes under 500 calories. These include the Local Farms Cheese Plate, BBQ Bison Burger and the Spicy Sausage flatbread.

Even a Hanger Stake and Cashew Pork makes it under 500. Desserts, served in small portions, are under 200.

Delicious food with a guiltless calorie count — another contradiction Harvest will be known for.

The waiters rushed back and forth between tables and the open kitchen on the bottom floor. They served trays of sliders and signature Harvest flatbread to guests.

The food came and went quickly, especially those sliders.

A large staircase at the entrance leads to the second floor, where there is a bar — with a recycled glass countertop — and a room for private functions. Every seat around the bar and the large booths were filled with guests sampling cocktails and appetizers. They were all of an older crowd — in jackets and ties, the relaxed business casual after a long day at work.

The light was dim, the music loud, but it wasn’t stuffy. I did have to tap some shoulders, whisper a few “excuse me’s” and dodge waiters to get around the restaurant.

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“We’re thrilled to have Harvest here,” Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Anne Papageorge said. “We like how it’s open to the outside with the transparent glass. It brings the outside in and the inside out.”

She added the restaurant is very cosmopolitan and will draw in Penn students and the broader community of faculty, staff and neighborhood residents.

Harvest takes the space that was formerly Marathon Grill and MarBar. Marathon, which still owns a branch in Center City, closed in May 2011 and left the 40th and Walnut intersection vacant for about a year. Magrogan announced he would be leasing the space from the University in January 2012.

The restaurant was scheduled to open earlier this summer, but delays from construction, working with unionized contractors and bad weather pushed back the opening date.

“This is the one of the best corners in Philadelphia,” Magrogan said, noting the movie theater, grocery store and proximity to Penn’s campus.

The intersection has seen its changes over the years, and Magrogan hopes his restaurant will serve as an anchor in the community. Harvest’s outside patio, lined with lights and plants, will serve as an “oasis” in the city.

Magrogan also owns Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House, which opened on campus in July, and another Harvest location in Glen Mills, Pa.

But he’s always looking to expand.

“Consumers are learning toward more upscale restaurants. They’re migrating to a better product and a better environment. Harvest is a better product and environment, but not over the top,” he said.

Harvest offers a seasonal menu, and as of yesterday, Magrogan’s favorite entree was the pear and bleu cheese flatbread.

It sounded like a bizarre combination — is it fruity, or is it cheesy? When I finally tried the flatbread, I couldn’t pinpoint which one it was.

I’d say it was a good balance.

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