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

Advertisements

Center City Sips

I know I know, pretty much anyone living in Philly already knows about this, but just in case your apartment is in a hole, make sure you get out and try Center City Sips.

Sips is a summer-long event at multiple restaurants which feature various cocktails, wine, and beer and 1/2 price appetizers on Wednesdays from 5-7pm.  Like restaurant week, this would be a cost-efficient and non-intimidating way to try out a new place, and maybe rediscover an old favorite.

I would personally suggest checking out Square Peg; you all know we’ve been there a couple of times already, and they are the new kids on the block so show them some love!  Their ruben quesadilla sounds pretty great, too.

Here is a full list of the participating restaurants
Follow @CCDSips for updates.

Now get out and get your drank on!

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

Lemon Hill

Remember our difficulty in choosing a place when we ended up at Supper?  Well, we finally made it to our original destination, Lemon Hill!  Lemon Hill is the new venture by the proprietors of Franklin Mortgage and Investment and Supper in the Fairmount neighborhood of the city.  Fairmount is (in)famous for bar hopping and generally cheap eats, so this adorable palette-challenging spot is a great addition to the area.

The Drinks

Franklin Mortgage is (obviously) responsible for the tasty cocktail offered at Lemon Hill, which was the original reason that we wanted to try the place out.  We were not disappointed (so not disappointed, in fact, that we each partook in two drinks).

Holly:Clover Club

The clover club is a twist on the Pink Lady, which is one of may favorite drinks.  I liked the sweet and sour flavors, and the smoothness that egg whites add to a drink is always appealing to me.  This drink tasted a bit summer-y to me, due to the fruitiness of the raspberry syrup.  Super tasty, and a great starter drink.

Holly: Fairmount Project

My second beverage was a play on an Aviation, which is known for the inclusion of maraschino syrup.  The Fairmount Project is more complex than the clover club, and was a great complement to dinner.  I really enjoyed how sour it was–like an adult sour candy.

Josh: Blues Explosion:

I’m not one for Tennessee whiskey on most days (actually everyday), but the ingredients caught my eye. Fresh grapefruit juice with maple syrup & Angostura bitters made for an exception when I would otherwise order something with bourbon or rye.

Current Drinks Menu

The Food

Appetizers

Holly: Smoked Tomato Soup with Bleu Cheese Popovers

How could I say no?  This soup was smooth, rich, and creamy. The popovers were adorable little semi-fried blobs of bleu cheese that slowly melted into the soup, adding a touch of funk that made the whole thing that much more interesting.  I really enjoyed this (and it inspired me to start adding bleu cheese to tomato soup all the time!)

Josh: Hot Spiced Pecans

These were more than I ever hoped they could be. I like pecan pie, and that’s about it for me and pecans; but smoked nuts with bacon sounded interesting and a nice snack to have with the first drink while waiting on our food. These were the perfect blend of smokey and salty and the cuts of thick bacon and red cherry peppers went great with the flavors.

Dinner

Holly: Roasted Mushroom French Dip

I was feeling like I hadn’t eaten nearly enough vegetables that day, and I love how the earthy flavor of mushrooms in a sandwich act like a protein.  Goat cheese was a great addition as well, because like the popovers, the slight funkiness was a great addition to the mushrooms.  This sandwich was fun to eat, also, because like a classic french dip, it came with a small bowl of jus for dipping.  Who doesn’t like to play with their food a little bit?

Josh: Fish Special of the Day: Scallops with charred escarole, potatoes, and “salsa” verde

I wasn’t sure what I was going to get and made one of those last second menu decisions. I was worried I’d have regrets and that the patty melt (Need to go back and try) would be infinitely better. My doubts were assuaged by some of the best cooked scallops I’ve ever had.

Dessert: Mississippi Mud Pie

There was a much more exciting option on the menu (key lime pie if I remember), but they were out of it at the time. I went with the Mississippi Mud Pie out of a sense of needing to have some kind of desert to gauge the restaurant on for the review. It was well made, but there wasn’t anything that was standout about it.

Current Dinner Menu

The Design

Lemon Hill is barely designed at all. It almost feels like walking into someone’s classy Philly row home (which it basically is).  The exposed brick wall may be a little overdone in restaurants around here, but at least this one is original to the building, and it serves a purpose by separating the bar from the quieter dinner area.The copper-y tin ceiling (which is probably actually a acoustic panel tile) is a beautiful element in this pretty bare-bones space.   If it is acoustical tile, it was a smart choice for a restaurant that invites cozy dinners with friends or a date: many restaurants forget that although hard surfaces usually look pretty great, they are horrible at dimming the sound that will inevitably be a problem.  My one real complaint is that the faux finish on the wall was pretty ugly, and I would have much preferred simple paint (or at least losing the textured “sandy” grit that they used).  Overall, Lemon Hill felt warm and homey, just like the food.

The Service

The staff was kind and helpful. At the beginning we did have that long wait when you aren’t ready to order so they really give you a lot of time to order. This was annoying but also understandable to a degree.

The Receipt

Closer to the 20 dollar side of a 10-20 dollar range for meals, I definitely felt we got good values. The cocktails lived up to my expectations and the prices along the lines of being just below Franklin Mortgage prices with a taste level that was equally just below it.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 3/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again?

Definitely.  How could we not?  We love Supper.  We Love the Franklin.  This is the best of both worlds, and pretty close to where we live, as well!

Restaurant Website

Philly Brunch Round Up

Sunday is the only day that Josh and I both have off.  This means that we go out to brunch after church pretty often.  This is often a way that we will try out a place before going there for dinner (because really, if you can’t do breakfast we probably don’t want your dinner).  Below are some Highlight meals and cocktails from different brunches around the city.

Kraftwork

Kraftwork, as I’m sure our regular readers (aka: Holly’s Mom) are aware, is one of our favorite spots in Philly.  We raved about them in our dinner review and their brunch is equally delicious. Highlights include Biscuits n’ Gravy (perfect comfort food with country sausage gravy and flaky biscuits), massive bloody marys (maries?), and daily house-made pastries.  As an added bonus, it’s even an acceptable place to take your parents/siblings/grandmother because there’s a large selection of well-made recognizable food (we tested this theory with Holly’s dad, brother, and brother’s friend, who all enjoyed their meals).  Kraftwork just can’t fail us.

Kraftwork Brunch Menu

Square Peg

Two Words: Breakfast. POUTINE! (more to come on that in a bit)

This center city spot is the new kid on the block.  Square Peg (thankfully) replaced one of the played-out locations of the Marathon Grill with a creative menu fitting of the large interesting space and trendy center city location.  We chose to test this place out for bunch based on the unique whiskey-centric cocktail menu, which delivers the best Bloody Mary concept ever presented: bacon infused SCOTCH replaces tasteless vodka to create a tangy, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable cocktail to accompany equally exciting brunch menu items. Like breakfast poutine.  Our waitress assured us that it would change our lives, and oh hell yes it does.  Poutine is a Canadian specialty composed of fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Add to this already delicious combo two fried eggs and replace the regular gravy with country sausage gravy and you’ve got Square peg’s answer to the game changer.  it’s huge, delicious, and absolutely perfect (especially with their bacon mary).

Square Peg Brunch Menu (they also get a shout-out for really attractive website design)

The Abbaye

The Abbaye is a neighborhood joint in Northern Liberties with friendly staff and a decent bar menu.  I like to give them my business because they used to let me church have events there, which is pretty cool for a bar that generally has no connection with religion.  Unfortunately, their dinner menu isn’t so exciting, so it’s hard to encourage Josh to try them out.  Luckily their brunch is pretty irresistible, namely the brunch cocktail menu and the variety of “hangover cures.”  I ordered the Texas Benedict, which garnered a high-five from our waiter, apparently because it’s a shiz-ton of food.  Fried chicken, bacon, eggs, and gravy atop fluffy biscuits is awesome – and completely impossible to finish in one sitting.  I also received my coffee in a shark-week mug.  Pretty unbeatable, I’d say.

The Abbaye Brunch Menu

Conclusion

This is only a small sampling of places we love.  Other honorable mentions (that may be featured later) include: Sidecar bar, Ida Mae’s Buncherie, and Rocket Cat.  We also have a few places that we have yet to hit up. Anyone up for another brunch roundup soon?  I know we are.