Taste: A Fishtown Find
At Modo Mio, chef Peter McAndrews's way is handmade pastas, fresh-baked bread — and a $30 prix fixe.
It’s a rare and thrilling experience to find an exceptional restaurant in a developing neighborhood. Two courses into my first visit to Modo Mio (“My Way”), on a corner where Northern Liberties meets Fishtown, I knew what I had discovered: Osteria at a lower price point. Later encounters with the evocative cooking of chef-owner Peter McAndrews reinforced that strong first impression.
The BYOB’s exterior heightens the sense of discovery. There’s a mosque on one side, a tattoo parlor on the other, and a pizzeria-red awning out front. In the no-frills dining room, decorated simply with framed black-and-white photographs, a leviathan loaf of bread rests on a vintage sideboard, diminishing throughout the evening as slices are cut away.
That bread, baked daily on the premises, is the base for bruschetta topped with caper-flecked, balsamic-sweetened chicken liver spread or gorgonzola with balsamic syrup or pureed white beans with white anchovies. The seasonal grilled vegetable plate showcased slender young asparagus, fat portabellas and baby artichokes amid the summer squashes and bell peppers on my visits. Whole almonds are an intriguing addition to grilled octopus tossed with baby spinach leaves, minimally dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
When McAndrews embraced Italian cooking with a passion, he went to the source. After several years of cooking creative American fare at Fairmount’s Rembrandt’s, he headed to culinary school in Piemonte, then apprenticed at a seafood restaurant in Molise (and hunted wild boar with the locals in his off hours). That explains why Modo Mio tastes more like Italy than most cook-alike BYOBs, and why turning tables isn’t a priority. Every dish can be ordered à la carte, in deference to the American inclination to hurry, but it’s far more enjoyable to settle in for the four-course $30 prix fixe, a steal for this level of quality.
The handmade pastas are not to be missed, particularly the delicate artichoke-and-mascarpone-filled ravioli pinched into tiny triangles, glossed with sage butter and garnished with toasted almonds. Slivers of bitter radicchio counterbalance rich gorgonzola sauce in a dish of nearly weightless potato gnocchi. Wide-cut pappardelle noodles catch plenty of meaty nuggets from the bolognese sauce.
It’s hard to recommend a particular main course because McAndrews tweaks the menu so often, but there’s always a duck (perhaps a crisp confit leg with lemon zest and fresh figs) and a fish special worth ordering (perhaps skate with broccoli rabe pesto).
And every dinner ends with simple desserts, a complimentary glass of sambuca, and a visit to your table by the gregarious chef — because that’s the Italian way.
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