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

Good Dog Bar

Like Dogs? Like Bars? Then this is– actually you can’t bring a dog here, but you can look at lots of nice dog pictures as you enjoy a beer and a burger at this great center city bar. Located on 15th street between Walnut and Locust, Good Dog Bar is the antithesis of the big name steak houses and celebrity restaurants that inhabit the area (nothing against them though!). You can get a meal for around ten bucks in a very cozy themed dive setting.

The Drinks
Good Dog has a dozen beers on tap (8 standards and 4 rotating) with another 2 dozen assorted bottles and cans covering domestics, crafts, and imports.  Holly and I both had beers and they were served quickly. They also make cocktails though these vary wildly.Of the 4 times I’ve gone to Good Dog over the years I’ve only gotten one once. That cocktail was the Bob Loblaw (of Arrested Development fame): a margarita with pineapple juice and jalapeño infused tequila that was an experience. Most of the time its silly vodka cocktails that probably taste like candy. As with valor, discretion is the better part of imbibing.

Beer Menu

Cocktail Menu

The Food

Appetizer: Truffled Cheese Steak Empanada

These sound really lame (like cheesesteak eggrolls) but delivered for above both of our expectations. The empanadas were crisp, not greasy, and the dough tasted slightly sweet. The truffled cheddar cheese and sliced ribeye were an amazing combo. Equally important was the bourbon infused Rogue Chocolate Stout dipping sauce that cut through the richness of the empanadas.  Hands down the best appetizer in a long time.

Main Courses

Josh: Roast Beef ( From the Specials menu)

Sounds like something out of the golden-age of Diners, at first appearances this sandwich looked like a regular roast beef sandwich that I could whip up at home. This sandwich however sports their own seasoned and roasted beef with a delicious mustard, sweet peppers, and swiss on nice sourdough bread. It came Good Dog’s signature fries (shoestring cut mix of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes) and overall it was a good meal.

Holly: Fried Tomato BLT

A ate this sandwich as a shout-out to my Mom.  As long as i can remember, she would almost always get the BLT at any restaurant (and when she went to Good Dog, guess what she had?).  This tasty variant was made with perfect sourdough toast, basil mayo, and of course the fried Tomato–which I was sadly kind of disappointed in.  The words “fried” and “tomato ” are almost always separated by “green” for a reason.  The crunchier texture and acidic bite of a green tomato would have been refreshing in this sandwich, but the fried ripe tomato just didn’t deliver like i wanted it to.  The flavors were great–it was mostly a texture issue that contributed to my overall lack of satisfaction with this entrée.

Food Menu

The Design

You want a dive?  Good Dog is the definition of dive.  The best part about the ‘decor” of most dives is the old-man-club appeal of wood paneling, dark colors, and dim lighting.  Good Dog delivers on all of these points, and also provides a plethora of adorable doggie portraits to view while you munch on tasty treats.  Good Dog is definitely a step up from your standard center city dive, but all the charm that you would expect is still present.


The Overall Experience

We went for an early dinner this time, and our service was very punctual.  Sometimes it can be incredibly busy at Good Dog, so if you go during normal dinner hours or on a weekend, expect to wait for a seat and your food.  This time we walked right in and sat down, which was great.  Our waitress was sweet and our food came almost too quickly, if you can even complain about that.  It was a good time, as always.

The Receipt

Good Dog is pretty affordable.  We didn’t keep the receipt this time (shame on us) but it was under $50 for a meal and drinks for the two of us.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 3/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 5/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again: Yes. Good Dog has good food at good prices and every time we’ve been there the service has been great. Not a place that will blow your mind with its offerings, but a great place to relax and grab a bite and a beer.

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