Restaurant review: Short North’s new “diner” Philco a big hit

  • Photos by Will Shilling
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From the July 18, 2013 edition

The new Philco Bar + Diner has metal counters, serves breakfast all day and will cook you a burger and fries; otherwise its “diner” designation is just a conceptual jumping-off point.

In other words, if you’re looking to kill a hangover with a hog load of greasy comfort food, this ain’t the place to go. But if you’re seeking modest-sized portions of prettily plated, forcefully flavored dishes that satisfy with intensity rather than volume, then step right in.

You’ll see a small, sleek and modern — if retro-flaunting — space whose previous incarnation as a dingy hot dog shop is visible in name only (it used to be Phillip’s Coney Island) since being reimagined by the charmed team behind The Rossi (whose chef Philco borrowed), Little Palace and Club 185. This good tunes-playing hotspot’s now got ’70s avocado green leatherette booths and seats, lots of gleaming stainless steel, handsome wood, muted gray tiles and a very friendly staff. Though it’s a hip and happening place, its vibe is actually relaxed.

Enhance that mood with a drink from a small selection of strong-flavored craft taps (pints from Bell’s, Jackie O’s and Seventh Son are $6) and best-buy-type wines like Monte Antico ($7.50/glass) and Argyle Riesling ($8/glass). Liquors are allegedly imminent, but were unavailable as of this writing.

Ditto for the homage-paying hot dogs, which I was told are still on order from Wisconsin. If everything’s not full-go yet for this newbie who fearlessly chose to open ComFest weekend (when I got an undercooked but delicious $8 burger — and a free glass of vino for the boo-boo), it’s already damn impressive.

Take, for instance, the elegant little Pickled Beet Carpaccio salad ($7). Its tangy red veggies, nuts, goat cheese crumbles, tuft of arugula and lovely lemon oil made for a beautifully composed dish. Count the 40 Clove Chicken ($13; with a tiny dark meat quarter, huge block of sweet and crusty cornbread and a heady roasted lemon-rosemary pan sauce) in the same company.

Ever wish chicken wings were heftier? Philco fixed that with its crackly fried, bold and inspired BBQ Duck Wings ($13). A quartet of what looked like chicken legs — but was definitely duck — formed what appropriately resembled a campfire set up over a super-smoky and Nueske’s bacon-powered, excellent potato salad. I was quite fond of this, but next time I’d order it as an appetizer and get the sticky and tangy sauce on the side.

The only thing I’d change about the Citrus-Braised Pork Shoulder ($12) is I’d refuse to share. No, I’d keep that smattering of stew-type meat chunks, root veggies and luscious sauce all to myself.

Smoke wafted up again from the pimenton-laced, creamy Napa slaw gracing a trio of Johnnycake Sliders ($8). Sandwiching the slaw and molasses-tinged, fatty pulled pork were silver dollar-sized pancakes. For more bulk (you’ll want it), get ’em with Philco’s blocky, crispy and terrific fries ($2.50), which arrive in a metal measuring cup.

For a slightly more substantial sandwich, pick the Breakfast Biscuit ($6). Salty, sweet, creamy and spicy, it was homey quick bread (not warm, though) with a crispy chorizo patty, jammy shallot preserves, melted chevre and a fried egg. Good stuff.

Crunchy and oniony Hushpuppies ($1) can be doused in syrup for an unusual “sweet” treat. Or you can get two salt-edged Chocolate Chip Cookies intentionally half-baked ($4). My favorite finisher was the characteristically familiar-yet-surprising, semi-molten Nutella Mug Cake ($5) whipped up in a coffee cup.