The hot foodie activity this summer is snagging a table at Messina Social Club in South Philly. Messina what? I’ll explain. Also this week, I drop in at two long-running “sleepers” — an American BYOB in Old City and an Italian steakhouse in Burlington County.
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How to create a restaurant that everyone seems to want to get into? Take over an old-time Italian social club in South Philly and open it to members only and their guests. Chef Joey Baldino did this two years ago by sprucing up Palizzi Social Club into a snug destination accessible only to this select audience, who enjoy top-flight Italian food and cocktails.
And now 3½ blocks away at 10th and Tasker (in the thick of the Passyunk Square restaurant scene), chef Jason Cichonski and his backers at Ampere Capital Group have gone a similar route at Messina Social Club, which opened last week.
Messina’s well-worn interior has been freshened into what Cichonski describes as “’50s, punk rock, Parisian library.”
Mark Regan, formerly of Hungry Pigeon and a line-mate of Cichonski’s at Lacroix, is chef, turning out a menu of Euro-inspired comfort food, not the Italian staples you’d expect of an establishment rooted in Sicily. Among dishes are roasted squash served with salsa macha, hazelnuts, and sesame; a daily torchio pasta; crispy pork cutlet; and baharat honey-glazed chicken drumsticks. A must: the potato pierogi topped with sauteed onions and smoked sour cream. (Not a typo. Regan places sour cream in a cold smoker.)
Cocktails (some retro) include a riff on the old-fashioned chocolate egg cream. Unlike the soda fountain staple, this drink includes egg and cream, along with Fernet, rye, seltzer, and house-made chocolate syrup; it’s garnished with a pretzel stick.
Right now, it’s a challenge to get in because the club has exhausted its founding memberships, which were available to those who paid their dues when the project was announced in April. Your only hope is to visit with a member, who also can sponsor you. Cichonski says he has some memberships to offer neighbors and folks who work in the restaurant industry, the target demo.
Hours are 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday to Monday (as in, closed Tuesday and Wednesday). After kitchen closes at midnight, a lighter menu is available.
Buon Gusto | Bala Cynwyd
Bala Pizza at 163 Bala Ave. has given way to this parlor, whose bonus is a menu of ice cream.
Inchin’s Bamboo Garden | Rittenhouse
Slick-looking Indo-Chinese bar-restaurant at 1726 Chestnut St.
Messina Social Club | Passyunk Square
Shi Miao Dao Yunnan Rice Noodle | Chinatown
So-called crossing-the-bridge noodle soup, cooked to order, is the specialty at 901 Race St.
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Cherry Hill Mall location buttoned up over the weekend.
Vista Peru, 20 S. Second St., 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday
Center City’s only Peruvian destination offers a tasty sampling of its menu and alcohol list over happy hour. (I prefer sitting at the bar and its row of tables in the front over the somewhat confined space that is the dining room.) Peruvian beers are only $4, while cocktails are $8, including a design-your-own pisco sour (Peru’s signature drink) in flavors such as coconut, pineapple, and strawberry. The citywide beer/shot special ($8) is quebranta and a bottle of Cusqueña.
There’s a half-dozen food choices (all $7). Try the tiraditos, the Peruvian version of sashimi, which gives you a respectable portion of sliced fish in a marinade of lime and aji amarillo, and/or the causa de pollo, which is a cold terrine of potato and chicken salad.
Chloe BYOB, 232 Arch St.
What does summer taste like? Probably like cod filet crusted in cornmeal and Old Bay, served with clams, cherry tomatoes, corn, mashed potatoes, and lemon aioli. It’s one of Mary Ann Ferrie’s seasonal staples at the charming sleeper she runs with husband Dan Grimes across from the Betsy Ross House.
Chloe is only slightly newer than the historic landmark — it opened in 2000, riding the early wave of mom-and-pop BYOBs in town. With its wooden tables and relaxed air, it’s as comfy for date night as it is for dinner with the folks. It’s a drop-in, too. No reservations.
Fish/seafood is one way to go, and the seared scallops (with corn salsa and warm bacon vinaigrette) as well as the tuna tacos served over wonton chips get raves. Vegetarians will appreciate the ratatouille; omit the goat cheese crumble, and it’s vegan.
Be advised that Chloe will be closed Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13 for private parties. Be further advised that Ferrie and Grimes’ last night before their summer vacation will be July 27. They’ll reopen Sept. 4.
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.
Toscano Ristorante & Steakhouse, 136 Farnsworth Ave., Bordentown
Say “Bordentown” to someone from Philly or the Pennsylvania suburbs, and visions of “too far for this fare” road trips may spring to mind. That is not the case with this fresh-looking, white-tablecloth Italian bar-restaurant, which opened in the Burlington County burg in 2006. From Center City or KoP, it’s only about 45 minutes to the front door, and street parking is free.
This is downtown quality, suitable for date night, a celebration, or business. Chef Zack Melker is liberal with the use of bacon, and his meat aging room yields an assortment of steaks and chops, such as the Creekstone Farms 12-ounce center-cut filet with a Burgundy wine demi and the root-beer-glazed pork chop served over fingerling potatoes, pearl onions, and asparagus. There’s a solid $57 fixed-price steak deal on Thursday nights. with starters such as bone marrow and shrimp cocktail and cuts such as New York strip with black-garlic barbecue rub, followed by a dessert such as tiramisu. (Check the dinner menu here.) Professional service all the way.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch Tuesday-Friday, 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 4-7:30 p.m. for Sunday dinner.
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