There may be no more pleasant way to enjoy an Old City evening than on the rooftop terrace at Revolution House. An unaccustomed calm reigns up above the scuttling of Market Street tourists with their maps and too-tight jean-shorts, the pretty girls idling outside the gauntlet of restaurants between Second and Third streets enticing you in for a drink or a meal. The wood slats of the floor up there speak of some kind of urban porch at the shore. A revolution indeed for casual Market Street.
Revolution House is a place to drink and nosh and not get too bogged down in the details. In that regard, it’s a perfect new tenant for the old Snow White Diner space, and an apt partnership with John Poulos and Ristorante Panorama’s Luca Sena.
The focus here seems to be on the approachability of the food. It’s a more-than-pleasant breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night spot that the neighborhood needs.
How else to explain the presence of “funions” on this menu? As expected, of course, the charm of this deep-fried frizzle is irresistible. This is one of the great truths of the world, an 11th Commandment of sorts: Thou shalt be won over by deep-fried onion, be it Awesome Blossom or French’s French Fried Onions in that old cardboard jar. The funions here arrive like a pile of tangled dreadlocks, the Sriracha aioli cutting the oil and sweetness just enough.
Tater tots, too, plumbed these oil-crisped depths. And just like their onion counterparts, these are archetypal in appearance and compulsively poppable: Snappy outside, almost molten inside (at least for the first few minutes after they’re delivered), and utterly unreliant on the foam-light mustard sauce accompanying them. With a whiskey or a hoppy beer, you’ve got a perfect late-night or pre-game snack.
Things end up on slightly shakier ground, however, when you start to move away from the bar-food-type dishes.
Seafood and vegetable skewers were so overcooked that both the shrimp and the calamari had taken on the texture of pencil erasers. This was made even more unfortunate because the flavors were just where they should have been, the charring heat of the grill helping the citrus marinade find an appealing middle ground between smoky and sweet. Eggplant parmesan, while classically conceived and executed, failed to rise above the level of pretty good. That marquis ingredient fared much better in the babaganoush, a simple mash of smoky roasted eggplant brought to vivid life with aggressive hits of lemon juice and garlic. This dish is easily one of the best meze below Broad Street right now.
Braised octopus could have used that same sense of aggression and verve. All the necessary parts are there—the steak-like texture of those meaty pieces, the evocative aromatics hovering above and around the dish—but it lacked that deep sense of hearty comfort that the best versions possess.
An order of cappelini and meatballs was treated like pan-fried noodles in Chinatown, and arrived looking like a glistening bird’s nest with its topping of excellent oxtail ragu. The meatballs packed a seriously complex punch despite their ethereal texture—I utterly loved these—but those noodles were more oily gimmick than payoff. Mediterranean salad—one of a number of vegetarian-friendly options on the menu—hit its target better, and took smart advantage of the summertime bounty: Wildly delicious tomatoes, sunset-toned carrots, snowy feta and a simple olive oil dressing.
As for the pizzas, they follow through on the promise implied by the wood-fired brick oven. The selection generally hews to the classics, and is all the more appealing for it, like the Calabrese with fior di latte and that region’s eponymous salami, “agro dolce” with red peppers. Even the standard-bearing margherita is a solid option—subtly acidic San Marzano tomato sauce cutting into the creaminess of fior di latte mozz, perfumed basil balancing out the headier notes of the olive oil anointment. Nice.
This last one is also a great palette against which to explore the wines that have been expertly assembled by Sena stalwart Bill Eccleston: It’s unusual to find such a thoughtful, global and appealing collection of bottles and glasses in such a compact list. The leathery perfume and dusty berries of the Cantina Sociale “Riserva” 2003, a beguiling blend of negroamaro and malvasia, seems to be emblematic of the wine program here. It wears its sophistication lightly, without even a hint of self-satisfaction. Market Street can be for grown-ups, after all.
So maybe that’s the key to happiness at Revolution House: Order a glass or three of wine, maybe a draft from their eight evolving taps, or a cocktail like the peachy-yet-manly “American Revolution”—Bourbon, peach bitters, muddled peaches and cherries—and snack the night away. Enjoy it with a scattering of dishes from a table in the industrially attractive dining rooms by the glow of beautifully wrought light fixtures and chandelier, or from your perch above it all. The food may not change your life, but the ambience and drinking are tough to beat.
200 Market St.
Cuisine: Unexpectedly snack-y “Italian diner-style.”
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 8am-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 8am-1am; Sun., 9:30am-11pm.
Price range: $5-$19.50.
Atmosphere: Beautifully rendered interior, and one of the best spots for outdoor dining in Old City.
Food: Most successful with the more casual dishes.
Service: Friendly and enthusiastic.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014