While tequila is clearly the name of the game, the white sangria is no impotent glass of sugar water. Made with rum, vermouth, St. Germaine, citrus, and cucumber, one large chalice could go toe-to-toe with the menu's extensive and innovative margarita selections. I enjoyed mine with tortilla chips and Tito Santana guacamole, which assumes fresh life by throwing sweet mango, crisp jicama, bell peppers, and habanero and serrano chiles into the mix. Crab enchiladas also stood out for the kitchen’s ability to highlight delicate crab flavor underneath a colorful salsa verde, crema, and cotija cheese.
But this was a mere taste of Philly, wrapped in a New York City package; like eating cheesesteaks from 99 Miles to Philly, which is still indeed 99 miles from Philly. The next day, we would experience it firsthand, spending one of many summer Saturdays with my mother, who has been trying to convince me for months—via ill-lit iPhone pics (it's all in the filters, Mom!)—that Philly's food game is coming on strong.
"Somewhere else" best describes the dimly lit, intimate interior, utilizing rustic woods and plaid buttondowns to transport diners to a better place, one with disarmingly charming staff and a wall full of whisky. The menu features small plates to share, which consistent with trend, were anything but small in size or impression, often arriving in crafted wooden bowls or positioned atop slivers of tree trunk.
It would be wrong to call the meal a progression, because each new bite was as rich and memorable as the last, leaving us happy, yet comotose, in a fried, blackened, and spicy haze. Early successes included plump fried oyster sliders with tangy slaw and tartar sauce, and blackened catfish with okra, couliflower, and spicy aoli. We guzzled the bottled homemade hot sauce, a Queen of Condiments, made with jalapeno, red and green chiles, garlic, shallots, onion, lemon juice, and Tabasco. If they sold it to customers, we would've bought a quart and planned our meals around it for a month.
Some restaurants proclaiming to specialize in small plates ignore the larger ones; but here, not so. “Hot chicken,” coated in cayenne, salt, and pepper, and then fried to a crisp, arrived atop a fat slice of white bread, dill pickles, and ranch sauce, like a sandwich too glorious to smother into a sandwich. And in fact, the largest dish of the night was my favorite of all: a twenty-one day, bone-in pork chop, regally served standing up, alongside sweet apple chutney, sharp pimento cheese grits, and of course, biscuits.
As we wheeled ourselves back across the Ben Franklin Bridge that night, I knew what needed to be done. I needed to write this post and leave future comparisons between the two cities for other topics, like baseball stadiums. Maybe we could compare food in the baseball stadiums, but still. Philly’s burgeoning food scene has come stand on its own, and that itself deserves some brotherly love.