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

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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!

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

Nodding Head

Nodding Head is a small brew-pub on Samson St in Center City.  It is nestled in among a lot of high class eateries and city bustle, but its second floor location makes it a quiet spot to grab a unique beer and a bite.

The Drinks

I did not order cocktails, though through all appearances Nodding head had a full bar that looked like it was straight out of the Winchester of Shaun of the Dead fame. Nodding head is best known for being a brewpub and winning lots of awards in Philly for their beers.  Holly and I both started out with their Ich Bin ein Berliner Weisse which is as they describe it “not a hefe-weizen.” It was a wheat, but had a nice bit of sour at the end and for mine I got it with the Woodruff syrup that definitely altered the flavor and made it almost taste like a hard cider.

Round 2 involved 60 Shilling for Holly and Grog for myself. Holly enjoyed the 60 Shilling Ale (a Scotch ale) and enjoyed it despite normally liking lighter (color) beers. The grog was a great english ale which is a style I have been having more and more of lately whenever I find it.

The Food

We originally decided to come to Nodding head to try their charcuterie platter, BUT SADNESS availed as they were sold out (we later found out that they no longer serve it).  We still got a great meal.

Josh:Pulled Pork Sandwich

Been on a bit of a pulled pork bend lately, but summer is the season for barbecue and it was the only thing on the menu that immediately jumped out at me. The pulled pork was probably the best I’ve had this summer (tried the pulled pork at Silk City and one other place I can’t recall). The sandwich was a good since, the pork was juicy and the barbecue sauce flavorful, and best of all they didn’t go overboard with the coleslaw (bonus points for a slice of melted cheddar too!).  Instead of fries, I got potato wedges and they really exceeded my expectations. They were crisp and cooked throughout and seasoned with paprika.

Holly: Moroccan Mussels

These little beauties come in either a 1/2 pot or full pot (2lb) portion.  The 1/2 pot is definitely enough food for one person, as the shellfish is accompanied by bread (an appropriately sized piece, I may add) and  fries in the Belgian tradition.  The Moroccan Mussels are flavored with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, tomato sauce, coriander, cumin and lemon zest–a delicious flavor adventure to the Mediterranean. The mussels were cooked well, and the broth was definitely worthy of being sopped up with the provided bread.  The fries were also seasoned well, but they came with a mayonnaise dipping sauce that seamed a bit heavy for the pairing.  I’m not always so hot on mayo dips for fries anyway having grown up on ketchup.

The Design

In the truest spirit of the “dive”, Nodding head is an achievement of run-down chic.  The bar is made to look like the stereotype of an old pub, with somewhat tattered wallpaper and lots of wood paneling.  I do happen to love the church-pews for seats and the large-scale tables.  The centerpiece of the restaurant is the large case of name-sake bobble heads at the top of the stairs, and the some-what visible beer stills toward the back of the dining area.  Nodding Head is surprisingly large, with a side dining room for busy days and many booths for groups.  It may not necessarily be beautiful to look at or innovative in design, but the space is well planned and it never feels cramped or unwelcoming.

The Overall Experience

This was our second go at the place as a couple (Holly had been many times with friends and enjoyed it, but the one time Josh went we received HORRIBLE service, to the point that Josh never wanted to go again.  We did decide to give it another go as it seemed like that fateful night had to have been a fluke.  To our pleasure it definitely was.  Our service this time around was great–polite, fast, and accurate (even entertaining at times).

The Receipt

5 dollar beers and food for around 10 dollars a person makes for an affordable outing. You could find beer for cheaper elsewhere but it’ll be PBR, Kenzinger, and Yeungling (all offense meant towards PBR) whereas at Nodding head you’re getting a great selection of craft brews in varying styles.

Our Ratings

Drinks: 3/5

Food: 4/5

Design: 2/5

Service: 5/5

Budget: 4/5

Overall Experience: 3/5

Will We Visit Again

Nodding Head is a great place to grab lunch or dinner for around 10 bucks and is basically Good Dog Bar as a brew-pub. While not a place to wow friends and family it is a go to for beer and burgers.