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

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).


KraftWork

Kraftwork

This Fishtown foodie haven is the much hipper (and possibly more refined) younger sister to South Philly’s Sidecar Bar.  Kraftwork has everything that a gastro-pub should: great beer selection, interesting bites, and great service.  This joint can (and will) run with the best of the Center City luxury eateries, but it’s down-to earth atmosphere, wait-staff, and clientele make it a great place to try items that may otherwise seem out of reach.  Its non-intimidation factor means that aspiring foodies can dip their toes in the world of weird, while providing a safety-net of familiar options to run back to if the more adventurous menus are too daunting.

The Drinks
Kraftwork is known for their large selection of beers on tap (24 at any given time) which come in varying pour sizes depending on the beer (ranging from 8oz pub glasses to 64 oz growlers). Kraftwork uses a unique system of pairing second set of 24 kegs that will automatically go once the beer on the first list kicks.  This is noted on the menus, which makes it easy to tell what is available at the time of ordering.  In addition to a really great beer selection, Kraftwork has a few cocktails on the drink menu that they also change up about as often as the menu does which tend to have interesting names to match their interesting ingredientsI had The Poe (Dry oaked Gin, Dubonnet, Orange Curaçao, Pechaud’s Bitters, and Absinthe) and it was a well made cocktail.  The Gin was up front (as it should be) and all the other flavors followed, mingling, but each distinct. Cocktail service was fast and our bartender obviously knew what she was doing.  Unfortunately for any of you reading this the Poe is no longer on the menu for you to try, but I would suggest either the J.F. Sebastian (a shout out to Blade Runner) or the Montgomery Scott.

Current Drink Menu (As of Monday May 16th)

The Food

Appetizer: Corn Fritters (from the specials menu)

The fritters piqued our interest and we tried them. They were appropriately sized for an appetizer and perfectly fried (crispy with no excess oil). The came plated with a black sauce which we couldn’t deduce what was in it, but it certainly tasted good and added to the fritters over all as did the greens garnishing the plate.  This was a great appetizer to have with your opening drink and set the stage for the meal to come.

Main Courses

Josh: Burger with Cheddar and Bacon-Onion Jam

Usually Holly is the burger aficionado and I’m the one that tries the other sandwiches or plates at a gastropub, but we mixed things up this time. The menu offers you a couple choices when you craft your burger from the cheese to 1 free topping and of course you can add more depending on what you like. I went with the 2 year aged cheddar (cheddar is by far one of the best burger cheeses) and the bacon onion jam (had to see how that paid off). The burger was cooked exactly to order (I always order medium rare) and the cheese and jam (little crunchy from the bacon and sweet from the onions) did not disappoint. I got the same herb fries as Holly and really enjoyed them.

Holly: Short Rib Sandwich

This beast of a sandwich came piled high with deliciously tender slow-cooked short rib, poblano cream, pepper jack cheese, and fried onions.  Firstly, the meat was perfect: fall apart, juicy, and flavored just right.  But seriously, the best part was that poblano cream.  it added just enough spice to make the sandwich interesting, and it cut through the richness of the short rib.  As with all sandwiches at Kraftwork, the short rib comes paired with either herbed fries or a salad.  If you’re not trying to watch your figure, go for the fries.  They are the perfect match-stick cut, with great texture and a really interesting flavor from the herbs (and German-style mustard aioli).

Dessert: Chocolate Terrine

This aptly named dessert comes with raspberry coulis and salted walnut brittle.  A terrine, for those who don’t know, is usually constructed of meat purée and seasonings, and formed into a little brick to be served with toast and cheese. Well, this was basically a chocolate version of that (and with better texture).  The dense little chocolate “brick” melted perfectly in our mouths, and when paired with the slightly sour raspberry sauce and salty brittle, it became a harmony of opposites to quell the most discerning foodie into submission.  Salty-sweet, crunchy-dense, clean and rich flavors and textures marry to create the perfect little ending to a great meal.

Current Dinner Menu (As of Monday May 16th)

The Design

Kraftwork’s menu is full of items that are constructed from familiar elements presented in an interesting way, and their interior mimics that notion.  One wall features the almost-stereotypical crumbling brick wall, but the plaster damask pattern (designed to look like it was crumbling as well) makes a ubiquitous design feature into a piece of art.  What would normally be extremely uncomfortable backless bar stools are custom-designed (by a sculpture artist) with ergonomic seats and personal foot rests.  Structural I-beams are the support for industrial lamps that look like they come straight from the mind of Dr. Seuss.  And a GIANT saw with laser-cut hops in the blade calls attention to the focus of the place: a central U-shaped Bar made of perforated steel and wood.  This is one time that I wont criticize an industrial interior: Kraftwork’s designer got it just right with elements that make the urban industrial look cool again.

The Overall Experience

Kraftwork more than delivered on all of our expectations. We went in expecting good food, hipster staff and customers, and a decent beer selection and got all of that, but not quite in the way we expected.  The food was the highlight of the night (I thought that the beer would be – Josh) as both the appetizer and the dessert were more than their menu descriptions belied. Although a good portion of the staff and customers were hipsters, there were some normal middle-aged couples  and our bartender looked like she could have worked in just about any kind of place. The beer selection is as good as it looks,  but despite trying out a beer made with rye (which was delicious)  it was Josh’s cocktail that took prize  above all of our beer selections in a restaurant that’s supposedly all about beer.  Everything about the outing was enjoyable and we can equally recommend it for a date, ladies night, or guys night out.

The Receipt

Appetizer, two dinners, 4 drinks, and dessert!  We managed to get all of this for  just under 65 dollars (and we weren’t even trying to be thrifty).  Kraftwork is a really great place to grab a bite (or a beer) on a budget.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 5/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again: Yes.  They have an ever-changing specials menu and the beers are also regularly rotated.  Not only was the service, food, and drink selection great, but it was easy to get to and super easy to find parking. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for the most up-to-date food and drink menus!

Visit The Kraftwork Website

Dos Segundos Cantina

Dos Segundos Logo

This charming little bar/restaurant is a Northern Liberties hot-spot, and not just because of the hipster-friendly décor and loud early 80’s punk soundtrack. Dos Segundos is exactly what we always expect of a Tex-Mex restaurant: bright, fun, delicious, and cheap! We even got to sit outside on this visit, which only added to the atmosphere. We must admit that the service may have been a little slow this time around, but we must forgive them because it was a Saturday night, and there was a wait of over an hour to get a table (after we sat down of course—we got the LAST table in the place!). We highly recommend Dos Segundos, and this is why:

The Drinks

I was very pleased with both the drink selection and my drinks. As you would expect they have a good selection of cervezas, but I did not come to a Mexican place to drink beer, Oh No, we’re talking tequila. In terms of just straight up tequila they have probably around 80 different bottles, as well as an offering of some very affordable flights focusing either on distillery, style, or region. I was intrigued, but as DD I held off and got some margaritas. Yes, you can get your adult slurpee margaritas here in a variety of flavors from passion-fruit to watermelon, but more importantly they have a dozen signature margaritas that are actual cocktails at only 7 dollars a glass. Its important to note that all of the specialty margaritas have a suggested upgrade that adds a better tequila if you so choose (most at around 10 dollars total). This time around I went with the well tequila, and while I don’t know what their well tequila is, it certainly is decent. I had the El Dorado (Tequila, Gran Marnier, lime, and pineapple juice) and the El Hevidor (Tequila, lime juice, and grapefuit soda). Both were well mixed and all the flavors balanced so  you could taste the tequila without it being overwhelmed by the fruit flavors.  Dos Segundos is definitely a place a would recommended for a guys night out or just drinks if you’re not hungry (though you may be later).

Drinks Menu

The Food

Before you even order, your waiter will provide you with free chips, salsa, and salsa verde. And these aren’t just some Tostidos and a can of Pace. The salsas are house-made and absolutely delicious, and the chips actually taste like the corn they are made from. The red salsa has a slight chipotle heat, and the salsa verde is fresh, bright, and actually tastes “green.” What great way to start a meal.  Also–if you go there for just drinks the chips keep coming (like the stereotypical peanuts or pretzels at a bar).

Appetizer: Nachos Pecunos

Pecunos may mean “small” in Spanish, but at Dos Segundos it means “big enough for 2-3 people.” I am afraid to even see the Grande size because the epic amount of deliciousness might be overwhelming. These nachos are heaping with cheese, beans, jalapenos, crema, roasted corn and your choice of proteins if you so desire. Somehow, even under this mess of tasty ingredients, the chips remain refreshingly crisp, and they are able to hold your inevitably huge scoops of tasty toppings all the way from the center of your table to your mouth.

Main Courses

Josh: Brisket Burrito (off the Specials menu)

I’d had a carne mechada burrito the first time I ate at Dos Segundos which was great, and when you order a burrito off the normal menu you can add specific ingredients to your liking (jalapenos, cheese, etc.). This was not that; this was magical deliciousness. The brisket was as good as brisket at a barbecue place and while the burrito had avocado and crema in it (both ingredients I usually prefer to go without) I was perfectly fine with it all. The burritos are huge and are a meal unto themselves. They must be eaten with a fork and knife–though this doesn’t stop them from wrapping it in tinfoil 3/4 the way up, as if a mere mortal could even attempt to eat this with their hands.

Holly: Carne Asada

This is off of the Platos Fuertes (main course) menu, and thus was a little pricier than most of their other items, but man was it worth it. A large spice-rubbed steak, topped with pico de gallo, pickled cactus, drunken beans, and fried sweet plantains. The steak was perfectly cooked (although if I were to order it again, I would take it medium rare rather than medium) and the spice rub was deep and flavorful—but not overtly “Mexican” in its profile. The drunken beans immediately made me say “MMMMMMMM” when I tasted them, and the pickled cactus was the perfect bright acidic bite to cut through all of the richness in the beans and the steak. The fried sweet plantains were soft and tasted almost like a caramelized banana, except slightly more savory. It was almost like my dessert came on the same plate as my meal! Now THAT is a good dinner.

Dessert: Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake

Okay, you’re probably thinking “What? No Tres Leches? No Sopapilla?” No. I (Holly) don’t like Tres Leches (and this makes me sad – Josh), and we will go back for the Sopapilla. Trust us on this: the shortcake is amazing! Tier upon tier of light yellow cake, layered with cream and strawberry jelly, topped with a rich chocolate shell and chocolate covered strawberries, with fresh blueberries (and they were amazing blueberries in of themselves. I grew up on Jersey roadside produce so I know – Josh) and strawberries on the side. It’s a good thing we decided to share this—our piece was easily an eighth of the whole cake and the was probably 6 inches tall.

And I’ll tell you a secret that’s even more amazing than the tastiness:

THE CAKE WAS VEGAN.  shhhh DON’T TELL

Yes. vegan. Besides the Tres Leches and Sopapilla which are made on-site, the variety of tasty cakes and desserts come from a local vegan bakery. Now, don’t go running for the hills. You would never know it were unless the waitress told you.  It was a great way to end a delicious meal.

Dinner Menu

The Design

If I was going to seriously review the design of a place like this, I would be required by my training and sensibilities to tear the décor apart. But that’s what’s so great about dives: they are SUPPOSED to be dive-y! Dos Segundos is too crowded, too loud, too uncomfortable, and kind of cheesy—and that’s why it’s so great. The sign itself looks like it’s been there for 100 years with peeling paint and barely readable text. The interior is swathed in primary colors that immediately let you know that your food is also going to be bright and fun. I especially love the bar, which looks like a mish-mash of wooden moving boxes they had left over slapped up on the wall. This industrial “non-design” look is very popular in Philadelphia right now, but it often isn’t right for the kind of food you will be eating. A 5-star restaurant that makes me to sit on a cheap wooden chair in low light next to an unfinished wall and then expects me to pay 100 per plate was not thinking their restaurant experience through. At Dos Segundos, the industrial no-frills interior is exactly where I want to be when I enjoy the best nachos I’ve ever had while drinking pitchers of sangria.

The Overall Experience

We mentioned earlier that the service was slow. This happened because our waiter missed our table, and we ended up being served by what seemed to be the head waitress. She was great—polite, well-spoken, and every time she came to our table and saw that we hadn’t received our orders yet, she immediately went to find out why. She even complimented Josh on his Street-Fighter reference t-shirt on our way out. She provided us with great service, considering she was probably managing a wait-staff and serving elsewhere in the restaurant as well.

Since we were sitting outside, it was not as loud as it sometimes is in the restaurant itself. This made it much easier to have a nice conversation. The people watching (and puppy watching) is also fabulous in Northern Liberties—and if you do happen to own a pooch, you’re welcome to bring him to sit outside, and the restaurant will treat him to a doggie biscuit! How sweet.

I hear tell that there is also Brunch offered every day.  We’ll have to make a return visit and report on that.  I’m sure that Dos Segundos is just as amazing for brunch as it is for dinner.

The Receipt:

And all of this great experience for less than $100. Our total was only $74 for the both of us to have drinks, appetizers, a full meal, and dessert. Dos Segundos is not only delicious, but completely budget-friendly.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 3/5 (Hey, it might be great for a dive, but it’s still a dive)

Service: 3/5 (We think this was an unfortunate mis-hap.  Our first visit our service was great)

Budget: 5/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again: Definitely, and you should, too because the specials change daily, and there is always something delicious to be offered up in the way of a ceviche, a taco, and a burrito.

Visit The Dos Segundos Website