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Mar 5, 2012 11:48 AM

Anyone been to Alla Spina yet?

I'm thinking of checking it out soon and I'd love to see what some Chowhounds think. Any particularly great dishes? Can't miss beer?

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  1. I haven't been there yet either. I was thinking of going tomorrow night after dinner at Route 6 because the brewer from Birrifico Bruton will be there.

    1. I went on opening night. Since then I think they have tweaked the menu and prices slightly, but I couldn't tell you exactly what has changed. My impressions:

      The space - actually a little smaller than I thought it was going to be. They have a large bar area and several tables, as well as a chef's counter. There is a little upstairs area above the bar with a table that seats 8. There is also a lounge area with a few couches and tables, and a tv. The space has a garage & grafitti theme. It's nice, but not romantic or luxurious or anything like that. Sort of reminds me of Amis.

      The beer - something like 20 beers on tap, with a good mix of domestics and imports. They also have 2 cask beers and 2 wines on tap. I asked about the wine drafts and was told that they come in kegs, just like the beers, and are filled with nitrogen so the wine isn't exposed to the air. They have a house beer brewed by Victory called Novello. This was priced at $5 for a 10oz draft, and is probably the most economical choice out of what struck me as a very expensive beer list. I stuck to Novellos. It is actually quite a good beer. The imported beers are pricey, but may be worth it if you enjoy trying unusual imports. You can drop some serious money here if you have more than 1 or 2 imports.

      The food - I had the pretzels with beer cheese (excellent), the swordfish blt (very good, but a little overdressed), and the nutella zuppa inglese (excellent). The menu is Vetri's interpretation of upscale bar food, and is heavy on pork and fried things. Nothing wrong with that. Prices are reasonable for this type of place. It's the cheapest of the Vetri places, with most of the larger plates $16 or less, and the smaller plates $10 or less. They also offer 3 comfort-food pastas, like mac & cheese and lasagna. And they have a blackboard with oyster, crudo, and pig specials. They even have a soft-serve ice cream machine, and you can get affogato-style ice cream with shots of beer poured on top.

      Service - friendly, but confused. I will cut them some slack because they just opened.

      My overall impression was positive. They are still working out some kinks, but it's definitely worth checking out.

      12 Replies
      1. re: deprofundis

        Were the large plates entree size? What were the portions like on the small plates?

        10oz drafts is absurd. It makes for very dishonest pricing if you ask me. Village Whiskey does the same thing, maybe they are 12oz there, but either way I don't like this trend.

        1. re: barryg

          With regard to beer size, I actually prefer it this way. Many of the beers are high gravity.. and should be served in something smaller than a pint. Capones, my favorite beer bar these days serves nine oz, 13 and 16, varying it based on the size of keg, and how high the alcohol content is. That to me is ideal.

          My favorite beer story is when I went to of all places Pizzeria Uno in Doylestown and saw they had Mad Elf on tap. The young lady behind the bar asked me whether I wanted 16 oz or 22 oz... Mad Elf is 11 percent. So size matters.. but I agree that you shouldn't rip off your customers either.

          1. re: cwdonald

            I understand but they are serving all beers as 10oz, including the 4.2% Yards Brawler and 5.5% Allagash White, for $5, that's $8/pint. VW serves pours of Kenzinger for $5, not sure if that's 10oz or 12oz but either way, that kind of markup of pedestrian beers just makes me feel like a sucker, no matter how good the food is, and these places are going for a "casual" atmosphere. Just serve pints and charge $8, at least I won't feel fooled and ripped off. Not to mention that you still are going to end up with a large bill at Vetri's so-called "affordable" little brother because of the alcohol prices. When Alla Spina was announced it was supposed to be a "super casual neighborhood trattoria," just be honest with us Marc.

            1. re: barryg

              I'd also add that Vetri doesn't include the 10% beverage tax in any of the pricing in any of his restaurants. So that $5 pour of Allagash or Novello is really $5.50. I'm not sure how common that is. Seems to be more common at upscale places.

              1. re: deprofundis

                $9 pints of Allagash White, neat.

              2. re: barryg

                FWIW .. brawler s the cheapest of their beers, which is 4 dollars, and that works out to 6.40 a pint. Not completely out of line. The sly fox pikeland pils for 6 dollars comes in at a whopping 9.60 a pint., definitely no bargain. I will pay for quality, but I am not looking to pay double for ordinary beer. But even more so Vetri should be criticized for not having appropriate glassware. The choice of 10 oz glasses feels more like a bean counter saying they can save money and training if they only have one size glass. For a place that is supposed to make beer one of the highlights, they are off to a very poor start.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  Brawler is listed as $5 on the website, Pikeland for $4.50

                  Where are you looking for prices?

                  I agree, I am willing to pay for quality and exotic tastes, but these markups are insulting. I'm not sure if the Italian drafts at $8-10 (pre-tax) per 10oz is competitive or not. I know I had a 12oz Italian import (bottle) at Le Virtu for I think $9, which I was happy to pay for an exotic beer at a good restaurant.

                  1. re: barryg

                    Your link shows it as 4... which is where I was looking.

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      This is what I'm seeing:

                      yards, brawler $5 / english dark mild / phila / 4.2%

                  2. re: cwdonald

                    I agree re: the glassware. I'm pretty sure they use identical glasses for every single draft. I don't know how they pour bottles. Maybe they will add more glassware to the mix over time. Then again, maybe they won't.

                    Also, how do you feel about the fact that they have a whopping 20 beers on draft? Unless they turn over the kegs very quickly, I would think this is a recipe for flat beer.

                    1. re: deprofundis

                      Twenty is standard. A place like Capones in East Norriton is able to move beer and they have more taps than that. I think its when you get over 50 that you have a problem. I remember going to Gingerman in NY which has something north of 66 beers on and the bartender did taste the beer before serving to me. And she had a palate that could tell if its bad (and a tasting notebook behind the bar that was incredible) If Vetri is successful, twenty beers will move without a problem.

              3. re: barryg

                I have to agree that I thought the beer markups were punishing. However, an occasional splurge isn't going to break me. But it definitely isn't a place I would want to hang around and drink at all the time. I did think the prices on domestics were OK.

                I can only speak for the plates that I had. I found the pricing and portion sizing to be fair. Similar to a place like Amis. If you order 2 small plates, one larger one, and a couple of the more modestly-priced beers, you will probably be satisfied and the bill will be around $50-60 all-in.

            2. Someone please report back on the pork shoulder for four... that sounds like my idea of a heavenly evening.

              2 Replies
              1. re: urbanfabric

                Perhaps the next time uhockey is in town he can have it all himself... ;-)

                I wonder if they are going to be doing some chef table or like events given that they have a big table upstairs. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

                1. re: cwdonald

                  lol. I just saw this. Is the lamb shoulder that legendary? :-)

                  We're trying to get a group for Alla Spina on 5/24 actually, just to sample a bunch of stuff. Alternatively, if anyone wanted to meet up late - like 11pm - on 5/25 I'd be game.


              2. I went last night with 6 people. we tried as many things as we could... The sausage, veal sandwich and artichokes are not to be missed. the restaurant is another winner for team vetri for sure... i can't wait until they can open their beautiful custom garage doors

                1. Four of us went on Saturday night and had a good time. We had
                  - the pretzels (beer cheese very tasty, but oddly the pretzel bites were just OK--lacking in salt, didn't have that good pretzel crust)
                  - mackerel crudo (very good but a miniscule portion)
                  - deviled eggs (again, just OK, and very little "punch" in the yolks)
                  - fried sunchokes (quite tasty but could have used some dipping sauce)
                  - pork terrine (excellent, and the applesauce was a great addition to the dish)
                  - beer cheese toast with egg and bacon (very good but not all that interesting)
                  - grilled cheese (good)
                  - lamb speck (delicious, and very lamby-tasting--a nice departure from the overwhelming focus on pork)
                  - schisola polenta (not at all what I was expecting--a tiny dish of soft polenta to be eaten with a spoon, whereas I was thinking it would be some squares of crispy polenta--it was kind of weird in the context of bar food, although tasty...would have been fine as a side dish on a main course)
                  - crespelle (basically, spinach lasagna...only OK, not a standout)
                  - pork pot pie (really good, just chunks of ham under a crust, but a lot of flavor)
                  - beer float with stout (I didn't try this but it got a good review from its owner)
                  - chocolate sundae (fried bananas were the winner here--but for my money, you do not make sundaes with soft serve)

                  Between the four of us we had two beer flights, about four drafts, and a couple of cocktails, and the bill came to $210. We were full and I had no complaints about the beer sizes, really--some beers aren't meant to be served in pints, given the alcohol content.

                  In general the meat dishes were the real standouts. I was very, very happy with the pork terrine, pork pot pie, and lamb speck. The rest of what we had was fine, but really, does EVERYTHING have to be cheese/bread/pork? After a while this just got kind of old. It's hard to make a whole meal out of it without getting very repetitive. To be fair, we could have ordered more fish, but there is a near total lack of vegetables on the menu, which is hard for me to deal with. Nonetheless, I think my dining companions were very happy (particularly Mr. travelmad478 who basically exists on pork, carbs, and cheese in daily life anyway!)