02 September 2001


Restaurant Review: The Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, in the northwestern quadrant of the city, is reputed to be the oldest racially integrated middle-class neighborhood in the country. And a new restaurant, North By Northwest (advertised as NXNW) reflects that diversity.

On Germantown Ave. in the heart of old Mt. Airy, NXNW occupies what was once a furniture store, storefront intact with tables filled with dining patrons on display to entice passersby. The space within has been transformed into a great gathering place - part restaurant, part bar, part jazz club. An elegant retro bar, salvaged no doubt from an old cocktail lounge, dominates one wall while rest the of NXNW is filled out with understated furniture, black and white photos, and a professional stage that hosts some of the best local jazz talent Philadelphia can offer. The back alley has been cleverly turned into outdoor seating, decorated with old doors, hubcaps, bike wheels, and assorted junk that comes together as a fountain.

The menu offers a wide variety of typical bar/bistro cuisine, but with a decidedly down-home twist and touches from African-American traditions. Bread is served with a jar of flavorful berry and muscat raisin jam. Various salads and appetizers are available and we tried a tomato and mozzarella on a bed of field greens and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I had a good rack of lamb, tender and flavored with rosemary. Others in our party had striped bass seared with green and white asparagus in a lemon marinade, a pulled-pork sandwich with a nice pickle relish on the side, and corn meal and pecan-encrusted catfish with a pecan tartar sauce. Entrees come with two sides and we selected green beans (sauteed with onion), cold yellow beet salad, corn pudding, and creamed spinach, but barbecued beans, greens, mashed potatoes, and several other options are available. For dessert we shared a berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream and a large dish of coconut-rice pudding.

I really wanted to give this restaurant four ×'s, but the food, while very good, is fairly unremarkable - just good, solid cooking. Nonetheless, the neighborhood feeling, the atmosphere, the music, and the diversity of both the clientèle and the wait-staff all combine to make a truly wonderful experience.

Rating: ××× (out of ××××)
Location: Germantown Ave. between Mt. Pleasant and Mt. Airy
Price: Moderate
Serving: Dinner (from 5:30 pm)
Other: live music most nights