Ultimate BYOB Guide

Three months, 75 BYOB’s, and a dozen bottles of Pepto Bismol later, I’m exhausted. I can’t complain, of course. Most people would kill to have had the opportunity to dine at so many of Philadelphia’s BYOB’s. And while it was one of the most rewarding extended culinary experiences I’ve ever had, I’m ready for a break. (N.B.: It will continue. Once a month, I’ll add a new review to the Guide.)Yet despite all the strain on my jeans, I have learned more about this city’s dining culture in the past three months than I did in my entire life previous to this project…Click here to read “Aroundphilly.com Ultimate BYOB Guide: Check Please!”

Scannicchio’s

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only.

Buy A Bottle At: 1237 S. 11th St., Philadelphia.

Scannicchio’s is exactly the kind of Italian restaurant that made South Philly such a dining destination in the first place. The classics are done beautifully, the occasional flights of culinary fancy are delicious, and the service is charming. My meal began with the stuffed whole artichoke, which was filled with an Italian bread stuffing, covered in garlic butter, and steamed. The result was hearty, deeply flavored, and absolutely delicious. Even standard fare like the aragosta e gamberi fra diavolo was wonderful. The shrimp and lobster were perfectly cooked and tender enough to cut with a fork, and the linguine was prepared al dente, a minor miracle amid all the mushy and overcooked pasta I’ve had lately. There was even the perfect amount of red wine and plum tomato sauce. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the ricotta cheesecake, which was dense and barely sweet. Complimentary homemade limoncello (but in this case made with limes) brought it all to a close beautifully. It’s a shame more people don’t know about Scannicchio’s, but at least that means I won’t have to wait for a table next time I go.

2500 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, 215.468.3900; www.scannicchio.com

Miraku Japanese Cuisine

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy A Bottle At: 1218 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Located in the ground floor of the Center City One apartment building, Miraku is the first sushi house east of Broad Street that I’d go back to on a regular basis. Ever since I moved from Rittenhouse to the culinary hinterlands of Society Hill, I’ve been searching for a Japanese restaurant whose sushi didn’t rely more on the pizzazz of flashy presentation than it did on solid technical preparation and subtlety. Gyoza, tender pan-fried dumplings filled with shrimp and vegetables, were seared beautifully on the outside and moist on the inside. The sushi was good, too, and cut generously thick, though perhaps too much so. And the spicy tuna roll, always a good metric by which to measure the quality of a sushi house, was a bit spicier than most, but pleasant nonetheless. And in a nod to tradition, each piece was bite-sized, as opposed to the impossible-to-eat, Yule-log-sized rolls that have become so commonplace in recent years. Even the space is well conceived, making Miraku a great spot for both a quick lunch or a Friday-night date.

1326 Spruce St., Philadelphia, 215.732.1110.

Melograno

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, no reservations, outside seating available.

Buy A Bottle At: 1913 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Melograno is the neighborhood Italian BYOB par excellence. It’s all simple, elegant décor, friendly service, and food as straightforward and well-prepared as any in the city right now. A simple appetizer salad of arugula, Parma ham, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and a lemon vinaigrette found the perfect balance between dressing and leaf, between bitter arugula and salty cheese and ham. As a result, every bite was as tasty-and, paradoxically, as interesting-as the one that preceded it. Mussels in white wine sauce were spicy and delicious, and the addition of large chunks of beautifully browned garlic added a sweet and earthy note that contrasted nicely with the freshness of chopped tomatoes sprinkled throughout. Pastas were every bit as good, especially the homemade pappardelle in a wild mushroom sauce with Pecorino and chopped walnuts. And in true Italian style-as opposed to true Italian-American style-there was just enough sauce to balance out the pasta, but not a bit more. Harmony, it seems, is standard fare at Melograno.

2201 Spruce St., Philadelphia, 215.875.8116.

Rx

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted.

Buy a Bottle At: 4049 Market St., Philadelphia.

It may seem counterintuitive to go to a restaurant for the kind of food you can conceivably cook at home, but Rx strikes the perfect balance between home-style simplicity and the kind of higher-end flourishes more typical of a restaurant. The strip steak, for example, was a very similar preparation to one I make at home, but, of course, noticeably better. It was cooked just as I had ordered it, the side of broccoli rabe was seasoned aggressively without overwhelming the essential nature of the flavor, and the cracked pepper-truffle butter was a nice haute touch. Beet salad, while perhaps a bit on the dry side, was deeply flavorful nonetheless. Even the supposedly higher-end dishes were excellent: the fat on a piece of duck was crisp and succulent, yet the meat still retained its trademark moisture-a next-to-impossible feat for even the best home cook. Really, Rx is perfectly suited to its neighborhood. It’s casual, not too expensive, and homey enough to warm the heart of even the most cynical and world-weary Penn student. It even made the cynical, world-weary restaurant critic smile more than once.

4443 Spruce St., Philadelphia, 215.222.9590.

El Jarocho

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only.

Buy A Bottle At: 1237 S. 11th St., Philadelphia.

The 1300 block of Ellsworth is not necessarily the first place you think of when it comes to Mexican food in Philadelphia. But there it is, brightly lit and decorated as basically as possible, right there on the corner. Spanish-language soap operas play on the television set. A child comes in the door, gives a running hug to the waitress and then disappears back into the kitchen. This is the Mexican restaurant as Spanish-language soap-opera come to live right here in Philadelphia. And the food is pretty good, too. Start with pico de gallo, the classic combination of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and cheese. The totopos, or deep-fried tortilla triangles, have just enough heft to support a mound of pico de gallo, which you’ll want to pile high. Mixed fajitas is a large plate of steak, shrimp, and chicken, all perfectly cooked, with poblano and red peppers, tomatoes, and onions, a side of disappointing rice and beans, and several tortillas to wrap it all up in. You’ll have to fight the urge to eat it all, because despite the sheer size of the preparation, you won’t want to stop. Wash it all down with a Mexican soda-Tamarindo is my favorite-stare blankly at the TV, and consider yourself lucky to have found El Jarocho. Even if you have no idea what the characters on the TV are saying, you’ll soon get into the spirit of things. It’s unavoidable at a place like this.

1138 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, 215.463.2020.

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