Long ago I was given a mission: start at my house and making concentric circles, visit all the restaurants around me, in order of distance between house and food. It wasn't really a serious mission (sorry, Dad!), but I still sometimes think about it when I'm eating in Northern Liberties or South Philly, as there are a solid handful of restaurants within stones throw of me that I have yet to visit. Audrey Claire belongs on that list. A tiny BYO on 20th and Spruce that spills out onto the sidewalk- I walk between the semi-awkwardly placed tables almost every day. The chalkboard listing of daily specials calls my name every time I steal a glance. Being given free rein to choose a restaurant for a post-graduation celebration of a friend, I finally chose Audrey Claire.
One thing that has been holding me back is their annoying No Reservations policy, which unfortunately/thankfully is only policed on Friday and Saturday. Difficult for me, since I'm usually dining on the weekend, but good for our dinner date since we wanted a mid-week meal. No problem scoring a reserv, but that place was busy the entire three hours we were there- filled to capacity on a Wednesday night. I'm impressed, especially for a restaurant that has been open 15 years- it's clear it is a solid neighborhood staple. Also of note, both Audrey Claire and Twenty Manning- just a half block down- are co-owned by Philadelphia restaurant queen, Audrey Taichman.
Our hostess gave us a choice of indoor/outdoor but as a semi-annoyed pedestrian, I chose the indoor spot. The small corner space maintains a spacious feel with the large windows and the open kitchen- very much appreciated. As a group, we decided to split the flatbread special of the day: Mission Fig with Gorgonzola, Toasted Sunflower Seeds and Honey ($10). With all of those quality ingredients, it was impossible to pass up. That flatbread doesn't stray from its implied definition- a very thin, almost tortilla like base was flimsy and folded easily, yet still held up the hefty slices of fresh figs and dollops of melted cheese. Gorgonzola is always a good match for something a little sweet, and the seeds gave it a bit of crunch.
The flatbread was served alongside the usual bread service, which I really loved (but didn't photograph). Super thick slices of French bread, almost a sandwich type loaf, are lightly toasted and served with an olive oil-fresh herb mix. Not bread you should pass up.
The menu is fairly small with a focus on fresh ingredients- most of the dishes have a protein focus, but with an addition of a good assortment of fruits and vegetables (which the website advertises as mostly local and organic). The menu changes frequently (mostly based on seasonality), but some of the crowd favorites are consistently offered-- mussels, seared haloumi, and the Mediterranean spread trio, for example. When it comes to main dishes, one of these crowd favorites is the pork chop, which is maple brined before cooking, and served with a wild boar bacon, candied dates, and sauteed apple topping ($22). Both of the men at our table chose this as their main course- apparently "wild boar bacon" is to men as chocolate is to ladies.
The bone-in chop is double thick, which is an impressive and "plentiful" amount of meat (words straight from the man who ate it). I sampled the sides- a hefty serving of incredibly smooth mashed potatoes- I think they use at least part Yukon Golds- and a small portion of steamed asparagus. For the price tag, this might be one of the best and most affordable chops in town.
I went with a dish I felt was more appropriate for the warm summer night- the grilled tiger shrimp ($21). Two rosemary skewers (I'm still not sure how they made them) of large shrimp are grilled tail-on, and served under a corn and jicama "salsa." I consider salsa to be slightly more wet than this light corn salad, but I can't complain since I really loved the fresh flavors-- and textures, seeing as the veggies were raw. Peeling the shrimp from the skewer and removing the tail separated the shrimp and the salsa though, preventing any real marriage of the two.
My real complaint comes with the meagerness of the dish as a whole-- there were plenty of shrimp but I felt that was all I was eating. They are served with roasted sweet potato: four small rounds of it. Considering the price of the dish and the inexpensive nature of sweet potatoes, I would have liked a bit more. However, along with the flatbread and the bread service, I left satisfied, so perhaps the small portion was appropriate.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience, although I think the company and the indulgence of a midweek meal out played a major role in my happiness. I'd recommend Audrey Claire for a casual, small group dinner, but I don't think it is worth a long wait on the weekends (sans reservations). I also realize that while the convenience of this little spot is appreciated, I'd rather travel farther for food I really love.
20th and Spruce