Alla Spina

Alla Spina is Marc Vetri’s latest venture in Philly, boasting a pork-centric menu and more approachable pricing than his other Philly locales.  In the lull of hurricane Sandy, we decided that it would be a good night to try it out sans-crowds.

The Drinks

Holly had  a flight of sour beers which helped her find the one beer she wanted to drink for the rest of the night. I tried their unique Alla Spina Weiss (brewed by Victory) which I instantly loved.

Alla Spina is definitely beer-drinker’s restaurant, with over 20 beers on tap and an extensive bottle list. This was Vetri’s goal with this place, since the rest of the Vetri family is pretty heavily geared toward wine drinkers.

Current Tap List on PhillyTapFinder

The Food

We both hadn’t really eaten much that day and driving around looking for a place to go/making up our minds only increased our hunger. So, we went to town.

Both: House-made Pretzels with Spicy Beer Cheese

This was one appetizer we both seriously underrated in our minds before actually getting.  For 5 dollars you get at least 10 giant soft pretzel balls and super tasty hot cheese dip. The best pretzel flavor-wise that I’ve ever had was the classic german-style bretzels at Brauhaus Schmidtz, but Vetri’s pretzels take the cake for texture and just-out-of-the-oven warmth. The cherry on this sundae was that the pretzels were served in a wooden bowl carved in the shape of a pig. INSTANT LOVE.

Josh: Beer Cheese Toast with Fried Egg and Bacon

This was both more and better than I expected it to be. I usually don’t go for over-easy eggs, but this was kinda the perfect storm for it. The sourdough toast was covered in a cheese sauce very similar to that we had for the pretzels (only better), and the bacon came wonderfully smoked and perfectly chewy. This was one of the best examples of breakfast food made for dinner I’ve had in awhile.

Holly: Pig Tails with Fennel Agrodolce

This was definitely a dish Holly was interested in, but I wanted no part of it. The pig tails were perfectly crisp and were presented almost like buffalo wings (although far tastier and of course porkier). These were a super delicious appetizer that was messy in the best possible way.  It sounded gross and weird, and it tasted like perfect bar food. Foodie heaven.

Both: Slow-Roasted Glazed Pork ShoulderSlow Roasted Deliciousness

Did I mention we were crazy hungry? For the main course we went above and beyond and ordered the pork shoulder off the specials menu, and it was possibly one of the best foodie experiences I have ever had in a restaurant (major props to Vetri and whoever was in the kitchen that night).  The wait was long (though aided by the aforementioned delicious appetizers) but well worth it, and as the dish hit the serving window the chef excitedly called out “this is for you!” to our table. The pork glaze on top was perfectly caramelized and crisp, giving way to a layer of fat underneath and incredibly juicy and tender pork. The glaze was salty, sweet, and acidic: complementing the meat perfectly. To help cut through the fat, the roast pork was served on a bed of mustard greens, sliced carrots, and thinly sliced apples. This dish was meant for two, and truthfully we could not finish it after the appetizers, but it did make for some of the best leftovers I’ve ever had.  If you are interested in giving it a go yourself, try out the recipe.

Dinner Menu

The Design

Like any good restaurant design, the interior of Alla Spina enhances and mimics the philosophy behind the food.  Alla Spina falls somewhere between industrial and rustic, with a fun atmosphere aided by bright colors, warm lighting, and custom street art created by a local graffiti artist.  The restaurant is literally a converted car repair shop, and the designers from Gruber Design Associates intended to keep that feel.  The interior distinctly urban with an underscoring of Italian elements.

Why do we know about some of the design developement for Alla Spina?  Holly was contracted by Gruber Design Associates to create concept art for the space.  Check it out:

Alla Spina Restaurant Rendering

Design by Gruber Design Associates

The Service

Despite not having a hostess in any real way, we were acknowledged as soon as we walked in the door and seated right away. Our service was prompt and basically everyone in the place was very on the ball. Part of the reason we go out weeknights if for the smaller crowd and faster service in general – this apparently was doubly true during the approach of a Hurricane Sandy.

The Receipt

Drinks range from 9-11 each and prices on the beer list were harder to nail down, but all seemed appropriate for the bottles. The food is good value, they offer a solid menu with variety of charcuterie, cheese, desserts and a daily mac and cheese that change up and could be anything when you arrive.  We spent around $100, but as we have already mentioned, we went to town on this meal.  You could easily stop by for a drink and appetizer and spend under $30.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again:

We already have 🙂  Pro-tip: You HAVE to go there for brunch. Hearty food, great atmosphere, and friendly prompt wait-staff are the best.  We went there on New Year’s day and watched the Mummers Parade on the big screen while we nursed our growing hangovers – it was the perfect cure.

Restaurant Website

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Tapestry

Tapestry is a neighborhood joint in the South Street area.  It’s literally the kind of place where you could bring your kids (there were multiple families there for dinner).  It’s cozy, relatively inexpensive, and offers approachable food.

The Drinks

The reason we originally wanted to try this place was the super classic cocktail menu.  We were not disappointed by the well mixed drinks and the extensive beer list.

Josh: Manhattan w/Rittenhouse rye; luxuardo cherry garnish.

Not on the official cocktail menu, but obviously something every bar should be able to produce well. I was very happy to order this with my preferred whiskey which is hard to fine. If you are looking for a more interesting take, try the Bensonhurst. Its a Manhatten with dry vermouth instead of sweet and they sub in an italian bitters over the more common angostura.

Hotel Nacional: el dorado 5 year rum, marie brizzard apry, pineapple juice, lime juice

This was a delicious, tropical drink that was really balanced for being a tropical drink. I’d definitely have to attest that to a strong pour of the rum in it and the apricot liquor making it more rounded out than the likes of a hurricane.

Holly: Abbey of the Christ Monk’s Ale

I wasn’t feeling like a cocktail (strange…I know) so I went with a beer I hadn’t tried before.  it was crisp, refreshing, but relatively forgettable.

Cocktail Menu

Bottle List

The Food

Appetizer: Chicken Wings

Okay, so these were normal chicken wings.  I probably don’t have to review them.  Yummy, like all junk food is yummy.

Holly: Cubano Panini

Sadly, this was just okay.  Somehow it just wasn’t as chrunchy-chewey-cheesy-flavorful as a Cuban sandwich should be.  The pickles were also sweet-ish.  I think my biggest problem wasn’t really that it tasted pretty plain, but that it had no texture.   Note: The last time I went to Tapestry, I had Fish and Chips, and it was delicious–perfectly cooked, crispy, and really tasty.  They obviously know how to make food, the cubano just wasn’t as satisfying as i would have hoped.

Josh:  Burger

This is actually our second time here and I got the burger the first time and I got it again this time out as well (Lame, I know, but sometimes you just want a burger, amirite?) and equally enjoyed it. It was cooked to order just right (medium rare) and their smoked bacon addition outside the ordinary. Fries were good.

Dinner Menu

The Design

Tapestry is styled to look somewhat like an old bistro.  There’s lots of wood, penny tile floors, and large chalk boards with the specials.  The most interesting design feature are the velvet draperies in all of the many windows, which give diners some privacy and give the restaurant a reason to sport its moniker.  It’s definitely not the prettiest place, but it isn’t like they’re trying that hard.  Tapestry is just a neighborhood joint that is trying to put out decent accessible food, so a decent accessible design is completely fitting.

The Service

Despite not having a hostess in any real way, we were acknowledged as soon as we walked in the door and sat right away. Our service was prompt and basically everyone in the place was very on the ball.

The Receipt

Drinks range from 9-11 each and prices on the beer list were harder to nail down, but all seemed appropriate for the bottles. The food is good value, they offer a nice solid menu with variety of charcuterie, cheese, desserts and a daily mac and cheese that change up and could be anything when you arrive.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 4/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again:

Most definitely. The food is a step above normal gastro pubs, though it doesn’t break any molds. However, the selection of beers in bottle, number of beers on tap (around 20) and the large and impressive cocktail menu of genuine classics mixed well make this a new favorite stop of ours.

Restaurant Website

Flights and Bites at Square Peg (Philly Beer Week)

Our mini foray into Philly Beer Week this year was a tasting event at our new foodie crush, Square Peg.  We tested them out on brunch a while back, and it was delicious, so when they decided to team up with Dogfish Head to do a tasting menu for $25, we were all over it.

Dinner Course

Three beers, three bites, triple tasty! First, the menu paired Dogfish Head’s Namaste with Fluke Ceviche.  The ceviche wasn’t as acidic as they are many times as it was cut with orange juice and basil for a light summery taste.  Namaste was a perfect choice for this–a witbeer brewed with orange and lemongrass that could easily become a session beer for me.  This whole combo was super delicious, and I even went for the “Tiger’s Milk” and drank the ceviche juice because it was so irresistibly fresh.

Next, one of our favorites, Midas Touch, was paired with roasted beets.  Midas Touch is one of the Ancient Ales from Dogfish head, and is brewed with ingredients that archeologists found in 2700 year old vessels from the Tomb of King Midas!  It’s rich, dark, and somewhat sweet, which paired perfectly with earthy beets (both in color and flavor).

The last part of dinner was Carne Asada, paired with Raison d’Etre, which isn’t one of my favorite beers, but it went really well with the steak.  The Steak was the BOMB, however.  I could eat spoonfulls of the accompanying paprika aioli all day.  Yum!

Dessert Course

It’s pretty rare, I would say, for the dessert course on a beer tasting menu to be the best part of the meal.  This accomplished that feat.  Dogfish Head’s Black and Blue was served with a super simple ice cream sundae, topped with pickled blueberries and Minus 8 vinegar.  The beer was one of the only fruit beers I have ever enjoyed, but it was far out-shined by this simplest of sundaes.  The blueberries in vinegar sauce perfectly coordinated with super sweet vanilla to produce a flavor that could be compared to a shrub cocktail, if a shrub were a milkshake.

In conclusion, pretty much everything was perfect.  We even got to schmooze with one of the reps from Dogfish head , who gave us a sweet trucker hat! (shhhh–Wendy said it was a secret!).  We also scored some Pint Glasses with the Dogfish Head logo out of the whole deal.  Pretty much every experience at Square Peg has been super enjoyable, and their Beer Week event only brings us closer to what is sure to be the pièce de résistance: DINNER!  Look back soon for that!  It’s sure to happen soon.

Philly Beer Week is Coming…

June 1-10, 2012, Philly Beer Week will be continuing its annual 10-day celebration of the Best Beer-Drinking City in America.  We’re definitely going to hit up some of the events, so check back later for our Philly Beer Week roundup.  (We went broke after PBW last year, and it’s sooooo worth it!)

Check out Philly Beer Week Online for the various events, and get your reservations in quick for any special tasting events! Happy drinking!

Sidecar Bar and Grille

Sidecar is a South Philly staple, and the vibe and food fit right in with its hip neighborhood.  Although we have gone to Side Car many times before, we have neglected to share a review with you all.  This seemed like the perfect time to do one, since Holly’s mom was in town, and we could get her two-cents in the post as well!

The Drinks

Sidecar keeps a pretty fresh and ever-rotating set of taps featuring a lot of area craft brews and specialties with some old standbys like PBR. They also have a respectable bottle list with beer offerings in all the major styles for those who aren’t feeling the draft list (myself during our latest visit).

Holly: Ithaca Saison

I have learned that Saisons can pretty much be a crap-shoot flavor-wise.  Some are more wheat-y, some are very bitter.  This one was very biter, which I’m not a huge fan of.  But it went well with my food so it became drinkable with dinner.

Josh: 1809 Berliner Weisse

I’m a big fan of the berliner weiss style. It’s the sourdough of beer in my mind: light, airy, and with a nice sour pluck to it. Plus, if you’re ever offered a syrup (natural fruit syrups like raspberry or Woodruff) don’t. A great beer to drink with your meal and especially good to go with the creative pub faire offered at Sidecar Bar and Grille.

The Food

Josh: Burger and Onion Rings

Sidecar makes a solid burger at an affordable price. They offer 3 different topping options all ranging from 10-12 dollars. I went with the cheddar, bacon and mushroom burger ($10) medium-rare w/fries (vs. mixed greens). The burger was great if a bit more on the medium side of medium-rare. It was pretty big as well but wasn’t really greasy at all ( a nice plus to not have my burger on my hand).  I also got way more fries than I remembered/was expecting. Their fries are a solid straight cut fries with the right amount of salt.

The onion rings were ordered because I forgot how much fries they give you with a sandwich @ Sidecar. These were huge, beer batter onion rings that were perfectly crisp & golden brown. They were fried expertly (no excess grease) and were as good as I remembered them being in the past.

Holly: Sweet Potato Soup (special) and Pork Carnitas

I wasn’t feeling all that hungry at this visit, so I thought I’d be safe with a soup and a small appetizer.  Foiled again.  The soup came in a bowl as large as my face,with beautiful and delicious bright orange soup contained.  The soup was savory and slightly spicy from the chipolte.  It was garnished with cilantro and sour cream.  I chose to pair it with a single pork carnita (an appetizer sold per piece).  The carnitas are juicy pulled pork, paired with jalapeno and pickled onions.  i was really craving the sharp pickled flavors, and they went great with both the pork itself and the silky smooth texture and flavor of the soup.  I was not, however, able to finish my meal by any stretch of the imagination.

Mom: Turkey Sandwich (Thanksgiving dinner on sourdough).

“The greens were excellent.  The sandwich was massive, and I had to bring half of it home! It’s excellent though” –Mom. Her sandwich really did look excellent.  And the bread was MASSIVE.  Her sandwich was almost 4 inches tall, and chock-full of the essence of thanksgiving.  I might have to try it sometime.

Current Dinner Menu

The Design

Sidecar, in all honesty, is a designed for (and probably by) hipsters.  It’s a little bit urban, a little bit too dark, and a little bit eclectic.  But truthfully, this is exactly what the food is like there so the decor actually works to support the whole vibe.  It’s pretty simple, but cute details like religious votives, melted vinyl record spice racks, and beer menus tacked into a cork board wainscot give the place just enough uniqueness to keep me interest.  The also just opened a new upstairs area, but we didn’t get to see it.  We will eventually, though, because Side car can be absolutely packed downstairs if it’s a weekend or during an event, and that extra space was badly needed.

The Overall Experience

Sidecar was and is usually a little noisy, but its a small space and it never gets out of hand. The food and the service are always spot on and there is always something good to drink on tap or to be mixed for you by their competent bar tenders (I’ve tested their gin cocktails in the past). It’s a great place to go with a friend or a small group, but too noisy for a date and even with the new upstairs I’d avoid going with a large group during peak hours.

The Receipt

Sandwiches around 10 dollars, snacks and appetizers under 10 with beers in the 5-10 dollar range definitely makes sidecar very affordable and an easy place to drink for awhile or just have nice big meal.  Our check was around $50 for the three of us.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 5/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again:

Yes.  And we have already.  For a fun experience check out their Sunday Night Pork special “Pork Me Sundays”: everything with pork in it is half off!  They also offer an amazing brunch (with their namesake sidecar cocktail featured. – Note from Josh: It’s a girly sidecar w/ sugar on the rim which is not part of a traditional sidecar).

Restaurant Website

(And on a side note, be sure to Like both Sidecar and Kraftwork, their sister restaurant, on Facebook.  The two send the best ridiculous music videos to each other and it’s great for some laughs, besides the updates you get for restaurant events and menu additions).