In the world of Center City restaurateurs, there are the famous, such as Steve Poses, Neil Stein and Stephen Starr. Poses and Stein have dropped out of sight, but a young man from Chicago has been making his mark in the area.
Four years ago, Jose Garces opened Amada and changed the way foodies eat and drink. All of a sudden, people were talking about Spain. Next, came Tinto near Rittenhouse Square with its small plates and impressive wine list. Last summer, Garces went west to University City and opened the moderately priced Mexican Distrito. In February, he opened Chifa, which features cuisines from China and Peru.
Edward and I walked over to Garces’ newest, Village Whiskey, next door to Tinto. A young greeter told us there would be a 30-minute wait. (The place does not take reservations.) We read the menu on the window and were immediately surprised. This is Garces’ first restaurant where food takes a backseat to drink.
The liquor list is staggering. It looked as if every bottle ever distilled, including Four Roses, made the cut. Small cocktails ($11 and $12) are divided into two cute arenas: Prohibition and Repeal. The beer list is international with prices from $5 to $8 and bottles from $15 to $25. Wines by the glass are priced fine by Center City standards, running $9.45 to $18, although you can sip a glass of two types of champagne for $90.
I sipped an Allagash White ($5.50) and Edward ordered a Victory Hop Devil ($6).
That said, Edward and I were shown to the back of the long narrow room, past the bar, where we slid onto bar stools. A slab of marble served as our table. Our view was the white subway tile wall that faced us.
Now on to the food. Pickling has been around for centuries. We opted for truffle lemon artichokes ($10) and red and golden beets ($8).
The artichokes tasted more of lemon and vinegar than truffle. They were very tart and could’ve used some seasoning. Our waiter brought us salt and pepper to sprinkle on. The beets also lacked seasoning and were prepared in too much vinegar. Both Pickles, as they are called on the menu, arrived in Mason jars set on a wood plank. Small ramekins of chopped, salty olives and whipped ricotta were on offer to schmear on rounds of toasted sourdough.
The Village burger ($9) is fashioned from 8 ounces of sustainable, farm-raised Maine Angus. It was topped with Thousand Island dressing, sliced tomato and a leaf of Boston lettuce. Adornments run from $1 to $3 extra, except for truffles, which are market price. Thank goodness the beef was on a sesame bun and not a sweet brioche. I love a rare burger, but mine came out way too raw. Our polite and knowledgeable server whisked it away and brought me one that was just fine, except it was way too salty. The first burger was not salty at all.
BBQ pork sammy ($12) was tender pulled meat topped with overly sweet barbecue sauce, as well as coleslaw. Because the menu is written with commas between ingredients, patrons do not realize whether components are "on" or "with." Coleslaw on corned beef is great, but Edward and I did not care for the tangy offering mixed with the sweet sauce. Another sandwich arrived with slaw on the side. Fried pickles are a Southern staple; these were OK.
The duck fat french fries ($5) were the biggest disappointment. I cook with duck fat and know its distinctive flavor and aroma. The fries, which were very salty, were not crisp and too thick. The dish tasted as if it was baked rather than deep-fried.
Village Whiskey was packed to capacity. The noise level was high, the service, excellent, but the food was just OK.
One tip of the toque to Village Whiskey.
118 S. 20th St.