I’ll go ahead and say it. I never much cared for South Park Abbey. It had a solid beer list, and I would catch the occasional NFL game there, but between food and booze, and my own snarky standards, there wasn’t a lot to keep me coming back. It’s possible the place just suffered the comparison to its predecessor, South Park Bar & Grill, which used to host a terrific weekly jazz jam, and which I still miss nearly a decade later. Regardless, when the Abbey closed last year under dubious circumstances, this South Park resident secretly approved, sensing an opportunity for its community-central corner location to become something new and better.
1946 Fern St,, South Park
Enter Fernside. Last month, a partnership of hospitality industry vets opened the new all-day bar and restaurant concept, named for its location at the intersection of Grape and Fern streets. One of those vets counts among the city’s best-known cocktail gurus, and with Christian Siglin on board, Fernside’s worth as a cocktail destination is a given. I showed up more concerned about the food.
But what impressed me the most upon arrival were the upgrades made to the building’s architecture. What used to be a narrow smoking patio along Grape Street has been expanded to become a dog-friendly dining patio, made wider with installation of roll-up doors that help the interior feel more connected to the neighborhood on a warm weather day. That structural change alone makes the place feel infinitely more welcoming, automatically a place to meet with friends over drinks from late morning to late night, even as the nascent food menu evolves and finds its identity.
To begin with, that menu, reportedly a product of chefs with top restaurants such as Nine Ten and Born & Raised on their resumes, does a decent job of appealing to herbivores as well as the meat and potatoes crowd. Salads and veggie burgers complement a menu boasting waffle fries and two types of hamburger: a gourmet style half-pounder, and one of the smashed patty variety, as recently popularized by The Friendly in North Park.
Like The Friendly, Fernside proves industry-friendly as well, serving both food and drinks late. And I’m told, when brunch service starts, it will start Friday and extend through Monday morning, a common day off for those who work in restaurants.
I was immediately drawn to a section of the sandwich menu with New Orleans leanings, including the po boy-inspired All That Pizzazz, which accompanies garlic shrimp with ham, turkey, and roasted mushrooms on a roll. But I knew my first order instantly: the muffuletta. Italian deli meats with giardiniera peppers and olive tapenade, served on toasted ciabatta.
On their own, soppressata, mortadella, and speck can each make a reasonably good sandwich. Stack them together with provolone and a briny tapenade, and I want to start making stereotypically exaggerated Italian-American hand gestures to express my appreciation.
At $15, it’s not the cheapest sandwich and fries combo in the neighborhood (note: this is a full-service restaurant). But I seriously love a good muffuletta, and once my dog learns to pull my leash in the direction of Fernside, I can see its patio becoming a destination for me once more.