Restaurant review: Firing on all cylinders, Philco offers phenomenal HH bargains

From the May 8, 2014 edition

They’re practically giving it away during happy hour at cheeky, stylish and fun Philco Bar + Diner. I mean a highfalutin, highly desirable — but usually high-priced — Rockmill beer for only $4!?! Fantastic local fried cheese curds for $3? Little corn dogs and mini-flavor-bomb coney dogs for a buck? Seriously, tipsy-time concessions this grin-inducing are hard to find.

Almost a year after its high-profile premiere (during the delirium and chaos that is ComFest weekend, no less), and now that the gotta-Instagram-it-first! crowds have moved onto the next-big-thing, Philco’s really hitting its stride. I discovered this recently by wandering in, and after a having great time, thinking, “Why didn’t I know about this killer heart-of-the-Short-North-happy-hour bargain before?”

So settle into Philco (FYI: from the terrific team that brought you The Rossi, Little Palace, El Camino and Club 185) and its retro-mod-diner-chic confines, where shades of grey and green animate the limited seating, and a sleek stainless steel counter/bar is the place to watch games on a big overhead TV. If sports ain’t your thing, sweat not, because Philco plays tasteful music too.

Alright, here are Philco’s win-win HH highlights (Monday-Friday, 3-7 p.m.): All local taps are half-off, meaning about $3-$4/pint (this lately included brews from Seventh Son, Actual, Four String, Rockmill and Jackie O’s); a couple decent reds and whites are $5/glass; High Life “ponies” are $1; and the already-cheap munchies grouped under “Favorites” go for half-cost.

“Favorites”-wise (prices listed hereafter are non-HH), garlicky, grill-charred, dense-sauced short-and-wide conies deliver messy junk food awesomeness ($2 apiece; full monty $.50 add-ons of sharp Ohio cheddar and smoky slaw are recommended). Also mandatory are delicately flour-crusted, gooey-underneath Bluejacket Dairy cheese curds ($6), served with a sorta classed-up French onion dip. And, hell, while you’re at it, why not “splurge” on crispy Hush Puppies (3/$2.50) and cutely undersized, same-sweet-cornbread-battered corn dogs for only $2 more? And Dijon up those little corn pups!

Among non-HH-discounted winners, Philco’s Fried Egg Tacos ($6) are terrific as a snack, anytime breakfast or shared appetizer. Arriving on corn tortillas, they’re colorful knife-and-forkers tricked out with corn, black beans, spicy salsa, crema, cotija cheese sprinkles and big clumps of chorizo for $2 extra if you want (you want).

Another new top-pick is the golden-brown-seared, thick-cut, bone-in Pan Roasted Ohio Pork Chop ($15). Exhibiting Philco’s diner-transcending plating style and fancier-than-it-might-seem techniques, the mostly tender hunk of steak-like juicy meat comes with a huge-sized smoky “hash” made of shaved Brussels sprouts, diced cooked apples and Nueske bacon. A smile of not-too-tart/not-too-sweet “balsamic butter” sauce completes the spot-on plate.

Also pretty great is the remarkably tender Sweet Chili Meatloaf ($11). Herby and circumscribed in bacon, the practically melts-on-contact loaf — which sits on homey if light and fluffy whipped potatoes — goes a little Asian with its hoisin glazing and generous tumble of crispy-not-oily “cornmeal tempura green beans.”

Further mining this entertainingly oxymoronic “elegant diner” vein is the six-ounce flat iron Herbed Steak and Potatoes ($16.50). Five or six thick-but-lean beef slices were perfectly cooked and more tender than not. Their capable partners were homemade (and characteristically smoky) steak sauce and redskin potatoes bathed in an almost peanut-buttery arugula and pecan pesto.

Lest you think all is refined diner fare here, the old-school-glorious Phillip’s Jr. burger ($4) speaks fluent greasyspoon — as do the grandma-style dessert wedges brought in from Just Pies ($3.50). And damn, at these prices, why not order two of each?

Photos by Meghan Ralston