AVERAGE ENTRÉE PRICE: $18.
FOOD: Pared-down bistro dishes with a French flair.
GET: Uncomplicated dishes that let quality ingredients do the talking.
DON’T GET: Dessert—besides crème brûlée.
QUEEN VILLAGERS HAVE quite an appetite. Sweetbreads, lamb’s tongue, head cheese, chicken livers: Neighbors say bring it on. And in the past few years, Ansill, Gayle, Southwark and Cochon have answered the call, making the neighborhood a destination for the area’s food lovers. But just a mile north, Northern Liberties diners have markedly different culinary predilections. They prefer sangria, pints of Yards, gnocchi and gussied-up bagel bites, giving the area a reputation for trendy venues with outdoor seating and water fountains for your rescued pit bull. So when Swallow, the neighborhood’s new BYOB, opened in the Liberties Walk plaza with a menu featuring roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, a burger laced with pork belly on an onion brioche roll, and no consistently vegetarian entrées, well, some NoLibbers lost their appetites.
In enclaves like Queen Village, where food-focused but bare-bones BYOBs have people lining up around the block, a stampede of bloggers and restaurant types descends the minute a new dining room flings open its doors. But Swallow opened to little fanfare, without the usual Internet chatter on the city’s foodie message boards. Even on a weekend, red-beaded chandeliers hang over a mostly empty dining room, a lonely table’s conversation bouncing off the eye-catching purple walls. Perhaps word about the reasonably priced, simply seared skirt steak and juicy Berkshire pork hasn’t gotten out yet, but judging from the foot traffic that ambles up to the door, peruses the menu and backs away, it might be the case that the right restaurant —an accomplished BYOB in the tradition of Old City’s Bistro 7 —opened in the wrong part of town.
Husband-and-wife chef/restaurateurs Jason and Cindy Caminos are newcomers to Philly. Before their arrival just over a year ago, they weren’t familiar with the city’s colorful patchwork of neighborhoods and their attendant collective personalities. The duo came from Washington, D.C., where neighborhoods aren’t as sharply defined.
The Caminoses chose Northern Liberties because they saw themselves in the community’s hip, convivial vibe. When Swallow’s opening was delayed for six months due to personal crises, they almost wrote off the entire project. The Caminoses credit community support with bringing them back from the brink. But while Northern Liberties might be just the thing the couple needed, their bistro, with its serious and simple European fare, doesn’t exactly reciprocate. The chefs are cooking the kind of food they love to eat, but it fails to feed the hungers of the neighborhood.
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