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LaBan: Zagorski Not Just Burger King; Erace Gains Weight at Alla Spina

Hickory Lane is doing it right on Fairmount
Hickory Lane is doing it right on Fairmount
Photo: Hickory Lane

Craig LaBan travels to the wilds of Fairmount Avenue to Hickory Lane, where he finds chef Matt Zagorski (formerly of Rouge) doing damn fine cookery beyond his damn fine grind skills. He swoons over plump mussels, a truffled steak tartare, and flavorful mid-rare scallops. The burger, though, is still the star.

"10 ounces of custom-ground brisket, filet, and deckle, seared to a cast-iron crisp and then snugged in the embrace of a brioche bun between delicate folds of bibb lettuce and a molten lid of tangy Cabot cheddar. It’s hard to imagine a burger this tasty as a burden. Then again, it’s so good that it’s also become clear: No change of scenery or molecular tricks will ever let Zagorski truly escape. The power of his patty is simply the best reason to visit Hickory Lane."

There were some missteps along the way, including a texture-less white asparagus soup, and an unimpressive tomato underneath an otherwise fantastic piece of wild striped bass. Overall a great review, with only two bells. Reads like a three-beller, though.

Adam Erace dines at Vetri's newest, Alla Spina. After a disappointing early visit, Erace finds some bites that make a northbound subway adventure necessary no matter where you are. He even finds a fantastic dish in the most basic no-no pairing in Italian cuisine: fish and cheese.

"Those oysters, for example. Giant Chincoteagues, their shells were boats covered in tarps of bubbling Parmigiano. The soft, creamy oyster meats sloshed about beneath each veil of cheese, their natural liquor mingling with lemon-and-parsley butter. Do they make these in Italy, where the combo of seafood and cheese is verboten? I'd guess no, though I'm not holding that against Vetri."

Sounds pretty sweet. Even when Vetri goes against the grain, he gets it right.

Phyllis Stein-Novack makes quick work of the Southern-inspired cuisine at Rex 1516, where chef Regis Jansen is flexing his spice muscles and showing some true ingenuity. Sadly, no Sandy along this time, where she would have been introduced to "shrimp." But, Phyllis heaps praise on some other clever twists on classics we all know and love.

"The mac and cheese ($7) was prepared with Gruyère, Fontina and Swiss. Edward and I enjoyed this dish in a big way. The elbow macaroni was al dente, as it needed be, while a bit of tomatoes enhanced the three beautifully melted cheeses. The big surprise was the topping of crispy Serrano ham. Oh, be still my heart. This was genius."

While the addition of ham on mac and cheese isn't quite "genius," it sure is delicious, and a thoughtful touch. Two-and-a-half tips of the toque for Rex 1516.

THE BLOGS: Bridges, Burgers, and Beer goes to the sorta-new Molly Malloy's in the Reading Terminal Market and grubs on the beefy burger; Two Eats Philly visit Matt Levin's newest venture, Square Peg, and enjoy the food, but suffer severe sticker shock; 22nd & Philly take you on a Tastykake-themed tour of Philly, and where you can get dishes inspired by and full of the local baked good obsession.

· All Week In Reviews Coverage [~EPHI~]

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