If you’ll allow us a detour from the usual Main Line news, we’ve tried a few spots downtown recently and thought we’d try to answer the question: are they worth the (increasingly difficult) drive to the city?
Chef/owner Konstantinos Pitsillides showcases his native Cypriot cuisine at this charming BYO located at the corner of 10th & Spruce. I’d heard of Kanella’s famous whole roast goats and pigs (that can be ordered in advance for larger parties), but was unaware, until recently, of their interesting brunch menu. They are even listed in Esquire’s “59 Best Breakfasts in America.”
In general, the food was what one might expect from a Mediterranean isle: fresh, simple and tasty. My main complaint was the overuse of onion — yes, an important part of this cuisine to be sure — but too much overwhelms most other ingredients.
We started with a plate of hummus, which had bright, exciting flavors, and was only dimmed by the pile of raw red onions (along with other fresh veggies) on top. Our favorite dish was the “Cyprus Breakfast”: runny eggs fried in olive oil, grilled halloumi cheese, smoky lounza (pork) and bread ($10), which had a nice range of tastes and was cooked properly. We also tried the “Shaksouka”, which was poached eggs in a “cumin-scented” tomato and pepper stew served with grilled bread, which was less successful. The eggs were over, and thus didn’t run into the stew when cut. The stew also lacked sauce/body — it was really more like a hash of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Lastly, a special “scramble” with cured beef was interesting, but was a tad dry and was also unnecessarily packed with onions.
All in all, Kanella was a fun place for brunch — nicely decorated, bustling, and fun, with a menu that’s certainly different from the rote brunch fare elsewhere. Some inconsistencies with the food, however, make it hard to recommend as a special trip destination from the ‘burbs (for brunch, at least). If you’re going to be down there anyway, it’s worth a try.
1001 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Spruce Street Espresso
Located on the corner of 11th and Spruce, SSE was rated one of the top espresso brewers in the city recently by Craig LeBan. It’s a tiny little store with an ample sidewalk seating area — perfect as the weather starts to improve. As for the espresso, a rich crema gave way to bright, intense acidity; this is certainly worth a stop if you are a connoisseur, and one of the best espressos I’ve had in our area. I must say, however, that I’d be just as happy (if not more) with the smooth, creamy shot from Town Hall in Merion Station (and wouldn’t even have to fight I76 traffic).
1101 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Bobby’s Burger Palace
Backed by Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s marketing machine, the burger joint opened about a year ago to much fanfare. After watching a few episodes of Flay’s new show “The Next Great American Restaurant”, we couldn’t help but wonder how Flay’s own fast-casual would “stack” up.
The menu is highly customizable, with any burger combination available in beef, turkey or chicken (surprisingly no veggie); each burger can also be “crunchified”, which means served with potato chips on top. Although I have been putting chips on my sandwiches since I was 6 years old, this gimmick fell flat with me. With all the “gourmet” sauces and toppings Flay offers, it just seems a bit pedestrian. Plus, everyone knows that chips work better on cold sandwiches.
We tried two burgers (both beef): the “Bobby Blue,” with blue cheese and bacon, and the “Napa Valley” (pictured), which came with fresh goat cheese, watercress and a meyer lemon honey mustard sauce. The blue was a bit heavy, but tasty. The Napa Valley was excellent — mild, creamy goat cheese, and just a touch of sweetness in the sauce. The beef may have been a bit under-seasoned, but it was nicely cooked to medium rare (something not all fast-casual burger joints will do!)
The regular fries were disappointing – not very crispy, and lacking any kind of flavor. It was almost as if they forgot the salt. Sweet potato fries, on the other hand, which came with a honey mustard horseradish sauce, excelled on their natural flavor (though again seemed under-seasoned). The tangy sauce was a nice touch.
After watching Flay’s new show (and the emphasis placed on the service), I was amused by how clueless the service was. (You order at a counter and the food is brought to your table.) Everyone was very pleasant and nice, but the food came out with inconsistent speed — for example, someone near us ordered a grilled cheese that came out a good 10 minutes after his companion’s burger — and a waiter brought someone else at our table the wrong drink.
In sum, if you’re in U-City and in need of a quick bite, BBP is worth a stop… but don’t go out of your way.
3925 Walnut Street
Napa Valley Burger image courtesy of the BBP website