By: Stephen App
Pop-ups, both in the form of restaurants and beer gardens, have become kind of a thing in Philadelphia in recent summers. But Walnut Hill College isn’t waiting for bright sunshine and hotter temperatures to launch their own pop-up restaurant. Instead, their latest pop-up restaurant, Bon Voyage, is already open for business. And after having dinner there, I can assure you, you shouldn’t wait for the summer to experience one of Philadelphia’s most underrated dining spots.
Pop-up restaurants are nothing new to Walnut Hill College, as they tend to host one iteration per academic term. But the Bon Voyage concept is unique to this year’s graduating students in the Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Restaurant Management, and Hotel Management bachelor programs, who pitched the concept of the restaurant based on the study abroad locations WHC students participate in.
Krissy Alfes and Connor Bodnar, 2 of the 17 graduating students who created Bon Voyage, say they hoped to capture the highlights of their student experience. Students may start their culinary journey in Philadelphia, they say, but during their time at Walnut Hill College, students in the Management associate programs travel to Florida and the Bahamas, while Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts associate students travel to France. Prior to graduating this summer, students in all bachelor’s degree programs will travel to England.
Alfes says she feels an immense sense of pride in the concept, as it allows students from every program the opportunity to share their stories and inspiration through food. “We all went to the same places, but we all had different experiences,” adds Bodnar.
In reality, it’s that endearing concept, and the manner in which Bodnar, Alfes, and their peers execute it, that makes this pop-up restaurant worth visiting before it closes on April 15. Because while the food is fantastic, that alone isn’t enough to separate Bon Voyage from the multitude of exquisite restaurants in this underrated culinary city.
Instead, where Bon Voyage excels is in the service, the conversation, and the way in which patrons are transported to sandy beaches and Parisian side streets with each course. That’s especially refreshing at a time when dining out often dissolves into a group of individuals silently peeking at their phones under the table.
The students of Bon Voyage make it their mission throughout the dining experience to take diners on a vicarious journey without having to leave the table. There’s the fried conch appetizer, for example, served with a mango salsa and avocado crema, that Bodnar selected from a humorous memory of his first day in the Bahamas, when he and a few friends were led by a local through winding streets that culminated in Bodnar eating fresh conch right out of the water.
Or there’s the duck confit, served on a bed of kale with a citrus vinaigrette dressing. Alfes chose the dish because of a particularly memorable day in Paris, when she and a friend found themselves caught in between a taxi riot and a Palestinian-Israeli conflict near the Arc De Triomphe. In an effort to distance themselves from the rapidly converging crowds, they stumbled across a small side street and a little café. Alfes says when they decided to sit down and order a late lunch, she decided she “just wanted a salad.”
Instead, Alfes says, “when I got the salad presented in front of me, it’s just this mound of salad greens and wrapped right around the edge of the plate there was this beautiful cured duck breast and it had this delicious citrus vinaigrette that the greens were tossed in. I was sitting there with this little espresso right next to me and my friend and I are just sitting there going through my Nikon, just looking at all of these riot pictures, all of the things that we were looking at all day.”
Her voice trails off at this point in the story, and after a small pause, she breaks into a beaming smile. “I want to go back,” she says. It’s a story that Alfes likely gets to tell each night, but as she recalls that late afternoon impromptu lunch, it’s easy to feel as though you are the first person she has shared an intimate memory with.
And it’s not just the fried conch or duck confit that tells a story. Every item on the menu – including appetizers, entrées, and desserts – is inspired by a student’s study abroad experience, while each cocktail features a popular spirit or beer from the region that inspired it.
In the end, says Bodnar, the goal of Bon Voyage is to help patrons, “understand the three years we spent at this school. It’s not all about the classroom; it’s about the experiences that we encountered.”
Adds Alfes, “we want you to have these dishes in front of you and see them from someone else’s perspective. I want someone to look at the duck salad the same way I can instead of just thinking, “this is a good duck salad.”
So while you wait for Philly’s warmer weather and pop-up beer gardens, consider a vicarious journey to Paris, Florida, or the Bahamas. Bon Voyage is currently accepting reservations from 5:30-10:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, until April 15. Reservations can be made by phone at 215-222-4200 or on OpenTable.