November 15, 2012


I have been wanting to get to George Sabatino's East Passyunk restaurant for months now.  You know what makes it the worst?  His Twitter feed with pictures detailing new dishes and specials.  Every time I see one, a small part of me dies, since I know I won't be eating it.  Drama aside, I was more than excited to finally check it out.  The recent addition of reservations also helps, as tables can fill up quickly.

Located in a great corner spot on Passyunk (super accessible by the Broad Street subway line), the long room is split into a bar area and a small dining room filled mostly with two-tops.  Though we started dinner in a relatively quiet space, by the time we left late on a Saturday evening, it was slammed- the bar was completely packed, three and four deep.  If you're looking for a quiet, romantic spot, this might not be your best bet.

However, if you're looking for a menu full of small plates that each sound better than the last, you've found your haven.  The devotion to cheese, charcuterie, and pickles reminds me of a more food-focused Village Whiskey- but at half the price.  We started our meal off with two types of pickles: the cucumbers and the carrots ($4 each).

Pickled cucumbers?  That's just.. regular pickles.  But these housemade cukes had so much more flavor than dills in a jar (not that I don't love those.. I do!).  Soaked in a brine with a good dose of olive oil, fresh herbs, and mustard seeds, these had a little kick to them, and maintained an exterior crunch.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  The carrots were a bit less exciting, although their description of cilantro and dried jalapeno certainly sounded mind-blowing.  Instead, they had a subtle Asian flavor profile, and were topped with toasted black sesame seeds.  The thing that bothered me most was how crunchy they were.. they needed another few days in brine to reach a state of pickled bliss.  My dining mate disagreed, so perhaps this crunchiness was intended.

Post-pickles, we each selected a couple dishes to share.  My first selection was the Steak Tartare ($11).  Although Sabatino focuses on classic American styles of food preparation, he still manages to add a flair to each dish.  The minced raw beef contained the typical capers and raw egg yolk, but had a distinct mustard flavor that really jived with the beef.  The quail egg seemed rather chicken-y to me, but I'll never say no to egg yolk running over my dinner.  A sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts and a light splash of truffle oil sound like confounding ingredients, but really brought each bite to life in both flavor and texture.  If I say "Eat This Immediately" after each dish, will it lose its meaning?

The Crispy Pork Belly came next on our list of meats-we-need-to-eat ($11).  The deep dish provided two chunks of falling-off-the-non-existent-bone belly that were just right for sharing.  The maple-chili glaze was distinct on the top layer of crisped skin, but its presence beneath the meat in a saucy pool was hardly noticeable.  The fried strips of.. parsnip? were a fun addition, but not easy to eat in combination with the meat.  But.. it's perfectly prepared pork belly.  Eat. This. Immediately.

My second choice veered us in a slightly healthier, fresher direction with the Squash Flan ($8).  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, especially since I'm not a huge fan of the classic Mexican dessert (so, yeah, what was I thinking?).  But, of course, Sabatino has some sort of magic touch and produced a perfectly smooth, buttery, pumpkin-esque "flan" of which I would have no problem consuming an entire bowl.  The chopped vegetable salad served with it gave it an additional fall touch while keeping it light.  Yeah.. eat this too.

And now after that schedule interruption, back to the meat.  I don't have a lot of experience with beef cheeks, but after this rendition, I might have to seek them out again- Stateside's Beer Braised version was a whole Thanksgiving array of comfort crammed into a single small plate ($13).  The braising process gives the meat a slow-cooked shortrib texture, while somehow maintaining a crisped exterior that holds each bite together before it melts in your mouth.

Our final savory dish of the night was yet another how-did-he-do-that winner.  Sure, croquettes are a no-fail, right?  Everyone loves anything coated in bread crumbs and fried in a little pocket.  These Parmesan Croquettes weren't quite so simple ($10).  A very delicate shell held just the slightest bit of oil, creating a weightless bite.  The interior produced creamy, melted cheese, like the adult version of a mozzeralla stick.  I never think of Parmesan in a creamy context, so I was extra impressed.  The braised escarole salad was like a second "dish within a dish"- earthy, but bright with a balsamic glaze and a bit of lemon.  Even better? A bite of both together.

At this point I was comfortably full- the portions on the small plates are great for sharing, giving you just enough to fully enjoy each combination of flavor while leaving you prepared for the next delivery of food to the table.  However, Stateside has received consistently good press on it's dessert front. This course leads you out of the hands of Sabatino into the capable hands of Robert Toland (recently given a great shout out by Drew Lazor at CityEats).  While he has become well known for his takes on s'mores and PB&J, we went for something with a little more classic American flavors (wait.. that might not be possible..).

The Caramelized Apple and Pear Pie was not something I expected to enjoy as much as I did- but I think the amazing presentation might have had something to do with it ($7).  Our own tiny little pie shell!  With perfectly baked, sugar-crusted pie cookie top!  Of course, the warm, softened fruit in it's bath of caramel didn't hurt.

At the end of the meal, we realized we hadn't had an off dish- not even ONE that didn't excite, impress, and satisfy us.  When was the last time you had a meal like that, and were out for under $50 a person? It's hard to do, but Stateside does it without a sweat.  And, while I've continuously told you to order all the same dishes we did, I have no doubt that the rest of the menu is executed just as flawlessly.  Stateside officially has my seal of approval, and would be my absolute first recommendation for someone dining in South Philly.

1536 East Passyunk Ave (corner of Passyunk and Cross Streets)

1 comment:

  1. I ate at Stateside the week it opened, and the staff kept apologizing for it's newness. I don't know why-- even in the very beginning the food was absolutely exquisite. I definitely have to go back now that they've grown up a bit-- that flan looks AMAZING!