09 June, 2009

A First Look at the Swift Half

This past Friday Amanda and I met our friend Bekah at her new apartment which is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the new Piazza at Schmidt's. The Piazza is pretty impressive and worth a post of its own at some point. The developer claims inspiration from Rome's Piazza Navona, but its best not to compare the two. Granted I haven't been back to the Eternal City in a few years but I think its safe to say there isn't a permanent jumbotron broadcasting sporting events in Navona. What Schmidt's does have in common with its Old World brethren is that its a great public space. There are interesting shops, art galleries and some intriguing new entries in Philadelphia's restaurant world.

Amanda, Bekah and I walked the few hundred steps to The Swift Half, which is a pub run by the same folks behind The Good Dog in Center City. The name refers to the last half a drink you say you're going to have on your way home (which, more often than not, turns into a bender). The space is handsomely appointed with a faux-tin drop ceiling above the bar and comfortable booths lining one side of the dining room. The beer list is similar to Good Dog's: American Craft Beer.

The menu is, for the most part, typical pub fare. The three of us decided to share a few dishes to maximize our sampling potential.
Our first course was the the combo plate, which consists of any 4 selections from the cheese and charcuterie sections of the menu. It comes with cornichons, mustard, pickled beets, candied almonds and olives. We chose the molinari salami, the duck prosciutto, keen's farmhouse cheddar and the moliterno sardo bianco. Both meats and cheeses were great. The duck prosciutto was tasty. The color of the meat itself was darker but the flavors were remarkably faithful to the real thing, with only a hint of gami-ness that suggested "fowl-play". Waka waka.

We were a little underwhelmed by the portion size of this combo plate, however. For $17 we expected a healthier serving of cheese and meat. Also, the olives were oddly terrible. They seemed to be half frozen and I could barely break through the oddly fluorescent green skin with my chompers.

The burger was ordered medium but came closer to well. It was tasty though (topped with our choice of provolone) and still juicy, despite the overcooking. The fries were a disappointing pile of soggy ends. I suspect we got the bottom of the basket. Good Dog's fries are also similarly greasy and broken down into tiny bits, not sure why this is or how the kitchen can rectify the situation.

The fish and chips was our favorite dish of the night. The batter was cooked to a delicious, well-done crisp hiding the tender, flaky morsels of fish inside. Doused with malt vinegar and ketchup this is pub fare at its finest.

The chips (nee fries) were of the same ilk as the soggy pile that accompanied the burger. That didn't stop us from finishing most of them though!

As for beers I had a Flying Dog Doggystyle IPA and a Sly Fox Dax Maibock. Both beers held up well with the food. The IPA being of the milder, less smack-you-in-your-face-with-the-hops variety. Not too familiar with the maibock style but the Sly Fox Dax was very quaffable indeed.

Service at The Swift Half was pretty great overall. None of the condescension you get at other gastropubs in the city.

I'm sure The Swift Half will iron out the inconsistencies in the kitchen, and when they do I will be back.

08 June, 2009

Art + Beer = Weekend

There are two very cool arts-and-beer-related events going on this weekend in Olde Kensington and Northern Liberties.

First, brother-Brogger Malachy is one of the many talented artists selling wares at Inliquid's 10th annual Art for the Cash Poor, 1-6pm Saturday at the Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia.  (Check out Mal's Flickr stream here.)  All art is priced under $199, with most pieces under $100.  To sweeten the deal, there will be live music, DJs, food from local restaurants and beer from Philadelphia Brewing Company.  AFTCP also runs on Sunday with the same hours (but sans Malachy).

The other event, if you're in the mood for a little exercise, is First Person Arts' Edible World Food Tour: Joe Sixpack's Northern Liberties, wherein Daily News beer columnist Don Russell leads a group of lucky folks on a walking tour of past and present beer landmarks in NoLibs.  Stops include the Foodery, Standard Tap, 700 Club and Ortlieb's.  The tour runs from 2-5:30pm on Saturday, starting at the Swift Half (1002 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia).  The cost is $75 person or $140 per couple ($65 per person for First Person Arts members).  Advance tickets required.

05 June, 2009

Duck-Rabbit Redux

Just when I was starting to think that the Atlantic didn't care very much about craft beer, Clay Risen pens a great writeup of the Duck-Rabbit Brewery in Farmville, NC, whose brown ale I recently enjoyed at Amada. As a homebrewer, I admire founder/brewer/former philosophy professor Paul Phillippon's desire to do one thing really well: brew dark beers. Judging by that pint of brown ale (an admittedly small sample), he's doing just that. For you philosophers out there, the article explains the Wittgensteinian origins of the brewery's logo.

As I mentioned the other day, Duck-Rabbit has only recently started showing up in the Philadelphia area. If you hurry it may still be on tap at Amada; bottles are available at the Foodery and by the case at the Beer Yard in Wayne.

01 June, 2009

Now boarding: Catalan Express

What happened to May?  Birthdays, Mother's Day, weddings, graduations, Memorial Day cookouts, and lots of post-lawn-mowing Kenzinger...  

And now it's June.  Your Broggers will try to be more attentive this month.

On a recent day off from work, I spent the afternoon in Center City.  I decided to have lunch at Amada, where the "Catalan Express" is one of the best deals around -- a soup and salad or sandwich for $12.50.  Not to mention that Amada has a good draft list.  Their rotating seasonal beer was the Duck-Rabbit Brewery's Brown Ale: yes please.  After a few sips I ordered the Salmorejo soup (Cordoban gazpacho with Serrano ham, olive & egg) and the Skirt Steak Pepito sandwich.  I noticed chef/owner José Garces at the other end of the bar, eating lunch and holding court with the afternoon staff.

Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale, framed by  Amada's artful plate storage

The beer was light-bodied for a brown ale, but just heavy and malty enough for the chilly weather outside.  Very nice.  Duck-Rabbit, from North Carolina, is relatively new to the Philadelphia area and I'll be on the lookout for more of their offerings.

Salmarejo: Cordoban gazpacho, Serrano ham, olive & egg

The day was really too cold for gazpacho, but as I came in near the end of lunch service, they were out of the heartier white bean stew.  Despite the chill, the gazpacho was really delicious, and the shmear of fruit (strawberry purée?) added a nice sweet contrast.   

Skirt Steak Pepito: Caramelized onions, Cabrales, sliced tomato & olive oil

Where the soup was better suited for warmer weather, the sandwich totally hit the spot: hearty and full of big, bold flavors.  The classic combination of beef, caramelized onions and blue cheese (queso de Cabrales), served piping hot on a crusty baguette, was the very definition of upscale comfort food.  The fries were great too, dusted with paprika and drizzled with a tangy aioli.  

The Catalan Express runs weekdays from 11:30am to 2:30pm.