Cage Matches and Wine Bashes

I’m known for making a big deal out of things. My birthday tends to be more of a birth-week/month, I treat theme parties with the type of fanfare usually reserved for Halloween, and I treat Halloween with the type of reverence that is usually reserved for Bacchanalian feasts. But you know what I didn’t really make a fuss about?

The fact that I went to Australia for 9 days. Many of my friends didn’t even know I was going until SURPRISE I was already there. And perhaps I’ll share more about this epic journey later…. but I will say that my last meal on my 15.5 hour flight, while tasty, didn’t get any points for presentation.

photo 1Thanks, Qantas, but let’s leave it to the professionals. In this case, the Kitchen and Bar staff of one of my favorite spots in the city, Alla Spina. About a day after I returned from Oz, incredibly jet-lagged and totally unexpected, I stumbled (almost literally) into one of Alla Spina’s legendary Cage Matches. With limited seating (I think capped around 20) and reservations only, ranging from about $65-75, these epic meals pit cooks from different restaurants in the Vetri family, or different sections of the same resto, or brewers, or really…. anyone that’s been longing for a grudge match against each other. I’ve gathered there tends to be a theme (in this case, sort of an autumnal vibe) and some ingredients. Our meal focused on 4 ingredients: Apple, short rib, pumpkin, and brussels sprouts.

My kinda meal.

There was also a boozy beverage paired with each course, in this order: cocktail, beer, wine, and the “wild card”. This was an edible adventure, and every course was more delicious than the last. Well, until the end, when I felt about stuffed enough to just tip over and roll down the stairs.

photo 2

From upper left corner clockwise: Savory goat cheese tart with bacon and brussels, Braised short rib (for some ungodly amount of time) with parsnip hazelnut puree, smoked pumpkin gnudi with beef broth, and pig head terrine with apple cider and duckfat, served with a radish apple salad.

photo 5

Housemade pita stuffed with brussels sprout hummus, lamb merguez (OMG!) and yogurt dressing served with a brussels pistachio soup of some sort, pumpkin chocolate chip cookie with pumpkin ice cream and STUPID tasty hot buttered rum, short rib surf and turf tartare (served with an Asian pear bellini), and some absolutely unreal pudding that I sort of remember in a dreamlike sense, without detail, only sensations.

And if you’ve not been to a cage match, do yourself a solid and keep your eyes glued to the Twitter. I would absolutely describe this as a “must try” event for Philly foodies.


Speaking of Philly “musts”, if you’re a wine-o in this fair city, you’ve got a lot of options. As a beer-o (oh, nope, that’s a horrible term I’ll never use to describe myself with again), my experiences are limited, but when I was invited to Pinot Boutique to celebrate their 8th Anniversary, I couldn’t very well say no…. And thank goodness I didn’t! Though it was only about 18 hours before my Australia trip began, I rolled up with my dear friend Susan to sip vino at Pinot!

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Located in Old City, conveniently by the 2nd Street MFL stop, this spot’s got every goodie that a wine-lover could want, from charms to decanters, glasses to kitschy napkins, bottle stoppers to this crazy pouring spinner thing that was like a Russian Roulette of Wine. I don’t know, again, I’m not an expert… But the folks at Pinot are, so I left things in their capable hands.

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I’ll admit, I spent my fair share of time canoodling with the one beer table present (old habits die hard), but hands down the COOLEST aspect of the evening was pairing wine with two Philly favs: Cheesesteaks AND soft pretzels.

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I won’t give away the secrets, but if you wanna check out a taste test like this on your own, they even have classes now and then…

While I can’t say that I’ve gone over to the dark side (would that be like…. a full bodied Malbec?), I have more than a few friends who prefer their fermented beverages to be of the grape variety. And since Pinot Boutique now also SELLS wine…. well, I’ll definitely know where to point them.

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