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

Midatlantic

Midtatlantic takes University City to the next level in regards to cuisine.  Chef Daniel Stern (of R2L) has fun with the foods of the Midatlantic states and creates a restaurant the encourages exploration.  With items like crab or vegetable scrapple, Tastycake bread pudding, and a multitude of local craft beers, this restaurant has an original and delicious menu that gives a West Philadelphia foodie a chance to come up for air from all the pizza and freezer burgers in the area.

The Drinks

Josh: The Stovepipe

Basically an adult root beer float, but way classier than those words sound. Made with Bourbon, Navan, Drambuie & Root Beer, The Stovepipe was designed by head chef Daniel Stern.  The drink definitely had bold root beer flavors and was a great way to start the meal while we waited for our food.

Rumspringa 2.0

I had the Rumspringa in its first version around when Midatlantic had recently opened. I enjoyed the drink at the time, but it was hard to find the bite of the rye in the cider it was mixed in (really great cider though). RumSpringa 2.0 is made with Rye, Aita Snap, Bitters, Maple & Burnt Orange and was a much more potent and enjoyable drink. All of the flavors complemented one another and it was nice to have a cocktail with Snap in it (vs. the much more proliferated Root by Art in the Age).

Holly: Shrub

I always have the shrub when I got to Midatlantic.  It has gone through a few evolutions.  it has always included fresh fruit, vinegar, and a little sugar with a spirit.  Originally you could choose the spirit, but they learned that the best of us order gin drinks.  The newest variation has gin with fresh muddled berries and tarragon in the mix, and the sweet and sour profile of the drink is very refreshing.  It is a unique drink that I have not seen made in other bars, so when at Midatlantic I jump at the chance to have it.

The Food

Appetizer: Meat and Cheese Board

Now THIS is what charcuterie should always be like. 3 different kinds of meat (plus a terreine), 4 kinds of cheese, condiments, and a pickle jar!  Plus they serve it with a varied assortment of breads in an amount appropriate to the size of the plate.This enormous appetizer is recommended for 2-4 people, and it could easily feed more.  The actual items will change out frequently, but this time we had the pleasure of sampling a house cured summer sausage that was pleasant (if not a little bland) and a chorizo with a great kick. The cheeses, much to Josh’s chagrin, included a soft goat cheese (which actually was quite clean tasting rather than the usual funk of a goat cheese) and the local “Tommenator“, a Tomme style that is brined with Troegs Troegenator double bock.

Main Courses

Josh: The Midatlantic (Burger)

I’ve had this burger before, but there’s about the flavor combinations that keep me coming back. The burger is always cooked exactly how I order (medium rare for me, thank you) and comes with their house made summer sausage sliced on top with horseradish cheddar and pickles.  The Ma Chips are a must. These house made kettle crunch chips are perfectly cooked and fresh and really help the burger to standout from the crowd.

Holly: Corned beef and Cabbage

Rich and delicious!  Corned beef and cabbage is one of my favorite meals (thanks to my father) and this variation was perfect.  The meat was incredibly tender and rich, the cabbage was well cooked but not soggy, and the cute assortment of multicolor potatoes, baby beets, and long slices of carrot were not only delicious but really beautiful to look at. It was topped with a horseradish cream and a couple of croutons (which I could have done without, truthfully).  The whole thing was buttery, savory, and incredibly satisfying.

Dessert:Simmons Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pie

Okay, so this specific time we didn’t get dessert (that meat and cheese board is a beast) but you MUST try this peanut butter pie.  Each little pie is made in an individual (sharable) portion, which is filled with a rich chocolatey -peanutty mouse, and topped with pretzels!  Sweet and salty–feeding our stereotypical foodie nature to its very core.

The Design

Midatlantic has a great interior.  It takes the industrial vibe that is ever so popular in this city and makes it just refined enough that it is appropriate to the level of cuisine it accompanies.  The floors are of polished concrete, which always looks great in my opinion (and it’s really easy to keep clean).  The lights are custom pieces made from bundles of fluorescent tubes with wild looking red wires escaping from the tops into the ceiling, which was left uncovered.  Along the back wall, sheets of wood in various shades of yellow, red, and green create an interesting texture that also draws attention to the open kitchen area and bar, which also had the keg room exposed to draw attention to the plethora of craft brews available.  There is also a private room that is separated from the main dining floor by a sheet metal wall with tiny windows punched through, giving a small peak of any parties that me be planned.  Besides  the fact that the now-ubiquitous Emeco Navy chair was used, this interior is highly original and very successful.

The Overall Experience

This visit the place was actually pretty busy (which is not usual during dinner time as Midatlantic seems to do its biggest business at lunch) so the service was just a tad slow.  But our waitress was polite, very knowledgeable, and eager to help us make good choices in both food and drink.  We also sat outside this time, which was very pleasant due to the glass division protecting us from people on the street and the swanky firepit in the middle of the outside patio.

The Receipt

Midatlantic is definitely not the cheapest place around (especially not in the proximity of its University City neighbors).  This trip we go three cocktails, an appetizer, and two entrees for around $100 before tip.  The great thing about this price range, however, is that the restaurant wont become overrun with rowdy college students during game time, and the quality of food and portion sizes are really worth the slightly higher price tag.  It’s not a place to go every couple of days after work, but it’s great for impressing a date or a quiet evening with a friend or two.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 5/5

Food: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Service: 4/5

Budget: 3/5

Overall Experience: 4/5

Will We Visit Again

Yes, and we already have a few times.  This is one of our favorite places due to its proximity to our home, the fact that it is usually quiet, and the great selection of interesting food and drink.