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

Supper

This evening’s adventure was strife with indecision.  We started out wanting to try the new spot by the owners of Franklin Mortgage and Supper, but Lemon Hill had just opened and was predictably packed.  Then we tried Osteria, but we can never get a table there because we don’t plan ahead.

The next logical step was to try Supper, since they were the partner in the Lemon Hill enterprise.  Supper is located on arguably the only “classy” block of South st, just across from the Whole Foods. It shares its block with places like Percy St. BBQ and Brauhaus Schmidt (both to be reviewed here in the future).

The Drinks

Supper makes all the snacks that Franklin Mortagage and Investment Co. serves, and in fair trade Supper’s cocktail menu is designed by the expert staff from the Franklin Mortgage. It was a short list, but all six cocktails featured read as good and interesting combinations.

Ride the Lightning: (Plymouth gin, lime juice, simple syrup and créme yvette)

As always these days, I went immediately for the Gin cocktail (I also couldn’t resist the name, as Joshua used to always do some stupid pose and yell “Ride the Lighting” as if he were some kind of super hero). Ride the Lightning is basically a gin daiquiri by flavor with the added kick from the violet flavored crème yvette (which also makes this a completely girly pink drink). It was a simple yet totally delicious drink.  So delicious, that I had two.

Ace of Spades:(Laird’s BIB, punt e mes, averno amaro, rothman & garnished with a winter orchard cherry)

This was basically a fancy manhattan, made by subbing out the whiskey for Laird’s Bottled in Bond Apple brandy.  It was very drinkable and not too sweet. I found it a good combination to the rich food I had for dinner.  Would have had 2 or another drink but I was DD that night.

Cocktail Menu

The Food

Appetizer: Smoked Chicken Wings

These were really, really awesome and interesting. The skin with the rub was perfectly crunchy. The rub itself? Blown away by the root beer flavor they’d managed to get onto the chicken wings.  ROOT BEER FLAVORED CHICKEN WINGS, PEOPLE.  Why is there not a line out the door for these things?

Holly: Duck and Waffles:

I have had duck at another restaurant before and I wasn’t happy with the gamey-ness, but how could I pass up this classy play on chicken and waffles?  And boy am I glad I was brave and ordered this.  Remember my reaction to the pork chop at R2L? This was that to the tenth power.  The duck was juicy and sweet (and the gamey flavor was properly balanced with other flavors).  The sage and pecan waffle was savory and sweet, and it perfectly counterpoised the juicy meat of the duck leg.  The whole thing was finished with maple jus (which makes the Vermonter in me very happy).  I am always a fan of breakfast for dinner, and this was probably the classiest breakfast I’ve ever had.

Josh:  Supper Burger

There were far more interesting opportunities on the menu (like Holly’s duck and waffles), but I wasn’t feeling any of them and decided to be boring and go with their burger. Well, this burger might as well as have been called Super Burger. This thing was huge and cooked perfectly to my specifications (medium rare), topped with a really good cheddar, and it also featured overnight tomatoes and some pork charcuterie that was basically charcuterie bacon. All of this was on a nice potato roll. The differences in texture between everything was just awesome. It came with some fries that were good, but nothing special and a little on the salty side (luckily it also came with some nice mustard to dip into).

Dinner Menu

The Design

Supper cannot be described as anything other than a pretty restaurant.  The features are all beautifully proportioned: from the patina’d metal on the façade, to the oversized drum shades on the hanging lights, to the soft palette of coral, cream, and wood tones.  Although many of the industrial elements of the space are untouched, they are counterpointed by natural looking wood structure, floral fabrics, and soft lighting.  I’m not a huge fan of open kitchens, but this one isn’t ostentatious or showy. When you walk into Supper, you get an idea from the interior that you are going to have a quiet, classy, and enjoyable evening.  Any interior that can perfectly convey the experience of a restaurant is a successful one, in my opinion.  My only complaint is that the double build-up on granite on the bar was poorly detailed, and I’m sure the result was not what the designer intended (this nit-pick brought to you by a designer who works in the stone industry).  Overall, I felt comfortable in Supper, which is exactly how a luxury restaurant should feel.

The Service

The service at Supper is top-notch and starts from the moment you enter the door and are greeted by the hostess. Our waiter was pretty much the definition of professional. Not pushy, very prompt and nice he expertly served us. We all got a personal greeting from the chef as well which was appreciated as well.

The Receipt

Supper is not inexpensive, but with expertly prepare food, cocktails, service, and interiors, I would not expect a cheap meal (nor would I want one).  We probably spent close to $150 for the two of us, and in a classy establishment like Supper, that is to be expected and welcomed.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 4/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 5/5

Will We Visit Again:

Most probably. It’s definitely not a place to go to every week, but the atmosphere and food begs a second glance.  Many of their items come directly from a farm that is operated by the restaurateur, so the food changes with the seasons. I would be intrigued to see what kind of menu changes come with the seasons.

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).