Trattoria Carina: Opening a restaurant under the radar
Fitler Dining Room gives way to an Italian concept.
In Philly's hyper-hyped restaurant scene — where every chef move and menu nuance is chronicled and analyzed by a gaggle of bloggers and Instagrammers — last week's opening of Trattoria Carina was a victory for owners Dan Clark and Ed Hackett.
Trattoria Carina — an easygoing Italian concept now filling the corner of 22nd and Spruce Streets in the spot that was until recently the more upmarket Fitler Dining Room — had no PR machine stoking the attention.
As of Oct. 1, it had no public website, no Facebook page, no Instagram account, and no large sign — just a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising a neighborhood Italian restaurant.
"No phone, either," Hackett told me last night when I stopped in after noticing the craft paper off the windows and the interior glowing again like an operating restaurant.
When they closed FDR about a month ago, Hackett and Clark — who also own Pub & Kitchen nearby and the Diving Horse in Avalon, N.J. – had left a note on the door promising "something new and fresh." But they ignored frequent calls and texts seeking elaboration.
Though frustrating from my side of the table (yeah, whatever), it's a shrewd business move.
It allowed Hackett, Clark, chefs Steve Eckerd and Peter Bresnahan, and their staff to work out the kinks, free of the clamoring "first-nighter" hordes and Yelpers. (There'd been no Yelp mention, either.)
The deal here:
It's a casual Italian with a small drink list (Negroni, Aperol spritz, peroni, prosecco, a couple of reds and whites). There's no corkage fee, so you can BYO.
They've done just a minor redo of the snug interior, whose open kitchen remains.
Atmosphere is low-lit beneath globe fixtures with subway-tiled walls and red votives on the tables.
They've flipped the orientation of the dining room, removing the tufted banquettes from the 22nd Street side in favor of a five-seat eating counter that gives a street view. Seating is communal in the middle row. The deuces along the far wall, beneath a narrow mirror, are separated.
The menu, not final, includes snacks (marinated olives and smoked almonds, plus pepperoncini and giardiniera), four apps (including grilled Tuscan chicken wings in an agrodolce sauce that alone makes it worth a visit), Italian wedding soup, a few salads, five pastas made in-house (including luscious tagliatelle Bolognese), and two entrees (chicken Milanese and grilled branzino).
Main-dish prices fit into the neighborhood: $16 for spaghetti pomodoro to $27 for the fish. (My wings were $11 and the tagliatelle was $21.50.)
Desserts include house-made gelato ($9), pizzelle ($5), and chocolate torte ($9).
It's walk-in only. No reservations.
Hackett, who says both families and couples have patronized in the early days, says it's open nightly now from 5 p.m. Weekend brunch will follow.
P.S. The space for years was the stellar Melograno, an Italian BYOB, which gave way to the LaBan three-bell Meme before Hackett and Clark took it over as FDR. Melograno, meanwhile, moved a few blocks away to 2012 Sansom St.