The Industry: Adventurous fare at fair prices: Not for restaurant workers only
Five insider facts about Philly restaurant culture a civilian can learn from a meal at the Industry:
"We'll eat any part of the animal," says co-owner Dave Garry, who puts forth a menu dotted with crispy pig ears, spicy sweetbreads, roasted marrow bones, and chicharrones (a.k.a. crispy pork rinds) as solid evidence.
Publications such as Modern Drunkard inspire the moral code, as excerpted on the menu: "Never start your order with 'I know this is going to be a pain, but . . . ."
Any place giving 20 percent discounts to resto workers (like Industry and its sibling, the Good Dog Bar) is going to be packed after 11 p.m. with bargain-hunting, whiskey-loving line cooks and off-duty servers.
Said crowds prove that a massive contingent of Philly's restaurant industry now lives in Pennsport and the surrounding South Philly Beyond, loosely bordered by Washington Avenue and Broad Street.
As much as much the Industry and its gallery of chef photos on the wall are a love poem to the edgy cool of the local scene's underbelly, you don't have to be a saucier, table-turner, or cocktail-slinger to feel at home eating here.
That notion of a too-cool-for-regular-folks vibe may, in fact, be the biggest misperception about the Industry. My best guess, judging from the outgoing and prepared service, a drink program that has ambitions beyond PBR (including cocktails and co-owner Heather Gleason's dream: an actual wine list), and a handsome space clad in reclaimed Lancaster barn planks, welded steel tables, and a black walnut bar, is that the Industry actually likes full-paying customers.
And if I lived in Pennsport, I'd likely be grasping the cleaver-handled front door and stepping in here often to support what is the much-needed anchor for this emerging neighborhood.
Paying full price is only fair, with thoughtful dishes priced largely under $20. And chef Patrick Szoke is serving up a fun and adventurous take on some familiar flavors that could easily rank higher in the city's gastropub pecking order if he straightened out a few stray details of seasoning and execution.
The fried chicken craze gets a twist with Kentucky Fried guinea hen, the brined bird moist beneath its well-seasoned bread-crumb crust, an ear of Mexican street corn glazed in chile-lime mayo, and a dusting of cotija cheese. (Deciding to put the hot sauce on the side, rather than directly on the hen, was a smart adjustment.) Classic steak-frites is a bargain here for $18, with perfectly mid-rare medallions of grilled hanger steak glossed in wine-rich bordelaise. Szoke's training at Vetri and Osteria, as well as his time at the Farm and Fisherman, is reflected in a soulful approach to alt-cuts such as lamb neck, which is slow-stewed to a rich ragu, then served in a steel crock with sides of grilled toast and a dollop of house-made ricotta.
Spare-parts cookery occupies much energy here, for better or worse. On the better side of things, tender sweetbreads are crisply fried like grown-up chicken nuggets, then tossed Buffalo-style in Frank's Red Hot Sauce. No, wait a second, those piggy cubes of tender deep-fried head cheese are the grown-up chicken nuggets - they're called "pork nuggets," after all - with a side of sambal-spiced aioli. For the vegetarian nugget crowd, there are the fried risotto arancini balls, though I missed the hidden treasure of a true stuffing at their cores (as opposed to milled peas blended into the rice).
The "canoe-cut" slab of roasted marrow bone will be a creamy lipid awakening for anyone who hasn't already scooped the gooey hollows of more flavorful versions around town (Bibou and McCrossen's). Szoke, however, may well be my new brandade champ. His crock of salt-cod whipped potatoes struck the perfect balance between creamy spud and fishy funk, with an herb-and-roast-peppers salad garnish that added subtle nuances and textural accents.
On the downside, I was less impressed with the chicken terrine (a little rubbery). And Szoke had some genuinely bad pig-skin moments. His less-than-snappy Indian-spiced chicharrones were lackin' the requisite cracklin'. And his shredded pig ear lettuce wraps, a clever cheffy twist on the P.F. Chang's classic, suffered numerous issues: poorly fried strips of meat that were stuck in that molar-jamming half state between crispy and chewy; butter lettuce leaves that were too flimsy to hold their cargo; and a dressing that was so acidic it was inedible.
It was one of only a few total failures from this kitchen, which had plenty of hits. I loved the chicken wings glazed with the sweet and gingery soy spice of the Chinatown-inspired "General's" sauce. The fried green tomatoes with buttermilk ranch mayo were a nice Southern ode. The shredded BBQ duck legs, scented with caraway, smoked paprika, mustard seed, and apple cider, were a convincing stand-in for pulled pork on a bun, but richer and sparked by the hot snap of pickled jalapeños.
And considering the Good Dog's status as one of Philly's burger meccas, Szoke has achieved the unlikely by creating another distinctive object of Philly burger lust. It's a deceptively simple quarter-pound patty griddled with traditional toppings (shredded lettuce, red onions, cheddar cheese). But there's just something magnetic about its careful construction and that genuinely savory LaFrieda ground brisket. Make it a double, and take the Industry's suggestion of a glass of bubbles (cava, Miller High Life, or brut rosé), and I have a new favorite high-low combo.
Great gastropubs are all about presenting such contrasts with a wink. You can get a bowl of alphabet soup inspired by Mom. Or some big and beautifully seared scallops, served with a corn and fava succotash alongside an earthy porridge sauce of creamed wheat that would do any white-tablecloth restaurant proud.
There are dishes that deliver on the appeal of a Vetri-trained hand cooking for a neighborhood crowd. The bowl of hand-cranked ricotta cavatelli topped with a rich blond ragu of ground pork and shaved Parmesan, for $15, is an item that alone would bring me back.
Vegetarians are also given serious consideration, with a whipped tofu dip turned green with herbs and sided with house-fried potato chips that's about as appealing as bean curd gets. A Colombian-inspired plate of arepas topped with roasted root veggies and red mole is hearty and exotic (I'd be raving if only the corn cakes weren't so soft).
The desserts are a work in progress. The now ubiquitous fresh doughnuts (these made with a cider batter) were tough and chewy. But the double-crusted chocolate tart filled with orange curd was an unexpected delight, as were the tender crepes folded around apple compote topped with glazed toasted walnuts in maple syrup.
The Industry's well-rounded bar also has enough libations to satisfy dessert sippers (Eos Moscato; Dow's 10-year Tawny Port) or any number of other thirsts. Beer fans will find a dozen taps and 20 bottles of craft satisfaction. The small but smart wine list manages to offer several interesting choices (ripasso; Sancerre; blaufrankisch, and good Sonoma pinot noir) at under $50 a bottle. And there are enough fine spirits (Milagro añejo; Balvenie Doublewood) and sharp cocktails to keep not just the subscribers of Modern Dunkard content, but the rest of us civilians, too.