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House-steeped vermouth marks Plenty Cafe's transformation into a notable bar

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

Updated: Thursday, November 30, 2017, 3:01 AM

A "spritz" of the house made vermouth and soda water at Plenty Cafe, one of 50-plus aperitivi and digestivi to choose from at the Queen Village location of the local cafe group.

In this season of overeating, a bittersweet sip of amari or vermouth can do you good. All those herbs and spices, steeped in complex combinations into fortified wines and liquors, can have an almost mystically soothing effect on my capacity to keep happily munching along. Drink one after dinner (Hungarian Unicum and Italian Cynar have long been my standbys) and it’s a “digestivo.” If you wake your taste buds up before the meal with a Campari-spiked Negroni or other vermouth cocktail, it’s aperitivo time. Or apéretif, if you’re sipping Lillet in France. It’s a distinctly European concept and one that all three locations of Plenty Cafe have embraced as this local group transitions from being simply a good coffee shop with travel-themed sandwiches (try the spicy “New Orleans”) and hearty salads (try the “Tel Aviv”) to a more ambitious all-day cafe concept with a broader menu and serious bar.

Plenty Cafe's housemade sweet vermouth is steeped from nearly 20 botanicals.

This is especially evident at Plenty’s newest location, in Queen Village at South Fifth and East Passyunk, where owner Anthony Mascieri says the bar now stocks well more than 55 varieties, available in an aperitivo flight of three for $10 (including rarities like Priorat Natur, Cardamaro, and Swiss Gran Classico), or in a variety of cocktails. My favorite way may be the simplest — a spritz with soda, house chinotto, and an orange twist that helps that aromatic sparkle shine. And the most intriguing choice right now is the vermouth that Plenty is making itself, a local wine fortified with Copper & Kings brandy and infused with nearly 20 botanicals and herbs, from gentian and wormwood to wild cherry bark, fennel, cardamom, and Kenyan coffee beans lightly roasted locally by Ultimo as a subtle nod to Plenty’s roots as a coffee-first business. The overall effect is citrusy, bright, and balanced — with strong orange overtones — but also tart, earthy, and complex. It’s a perfect sipper to accompany a platter of local charcuterie and craft cheeses from Plenty’s impressive list of options while you build your appetite in the most civilized way possible to prepare for that next big meal.

— Craig LaBan

House vermouth, $7, Plenty Cafe, 705 S. Fifth St., 267-758-6791; plentyphiladelphia.com

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

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