Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Swallow: Mac & Cheese Bistro

Last week, the former French inspired menu at Swallow on Liberties Walk changed drastically to the happiness and dismay of many Northern Liberties residents. I had some initial doubts about the menu too, it seemed eerily similar to a menu at a restaurant not even fifty feet from Swallow's front door, so I had to go check it out. I was happy to find that this rendition of mac and cheese is not an exact copy-cat of any versions already available in Northern Liberties.

The menu is a radical departure from Jason & Cindy's initial menu for Swallow. The new offerings encompass unfussy customizable comfort food all the way. Here's the skinny: You pick what size mac & cheese you want (small or large), then pick two cheeses from an extensive list, and up to three mix-ins for about $8 to $12, depending on the size you chose.
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I brought a partner in eating who enjoys spicy things, so she chose pepper jack and cheddar cheeses with jalapenos, broccoli and scallions. The result was a bowl of smooth and creamy noodles with flecks of spice and perfectly steamed broccoli. Aside from the kick of the jalapenos, this dish was rather bland. Monterey jack is a seemingly bland cheese, but we expected more heft from the cheddar. Maybe a little more of a heavy hand with the cheese, please?
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We also sampled a plate of mac and cheese studded with cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, bacon, grilled chicken, and sweet corn niblets. As far as flavor goes, this second plate surpassed the first, but was significantly less healthy for us. The sweet corn was an inspired addition and complemented the smokey bacon flavor very well. We opted to top both dishes of mac & cheese with buttered breadcrumbs which were then toasted under the broiler and gave each dish a nice subtle crunch on top.
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I'm not one to judge on main dishes alone, so we tried a side of green beans. The menu said "slow-cooked" but I asked the server how they were prepared because I don't appreciate a green bean that has no texture. She replied they were sauteed with butter, what could be better? Well, she was wrong. Not only were the green beans cooked beyond recognition, they were doused with and sitting in a pool of salty brown sauce that had to have contained some sort of mushroom or beef stock. Not at all what I was expecting when I heard "sauteed with butter" but more true to the menu description of "slow-cooked". In my opinion, skip the green beans. I'd rather have canned.

Overall, Swallow's new menu is less appealing for the old crowd it used to draw, but is more appealing for those who want a reasonably priced comfort food meal with a serious level of customizability. The new menu is likely to keep Swallow afloat in these trying economic times, but I for one am going to miss the seared tuna over white bean puree and the perfectly grilled flank steak from their earlier incarnation. The mac & cheese debate will likely continue to roar in Northern Libs, but the newest venue for serving up this classic dish has some unique things to offer at an affordable price. If you check it out, let me know what you think. For me, if I'm craving mac and cheese, my first stop will be A Full Plate Cafe for their down-home version made with whole wheat pasta and baked to perfection with a crust of panko breadcrumbs. If AFP is closed, I'd head over to North Bowl for their sharp and creamy version topped with crushed goldfish. If those first two attempts at procuring Mac & Cheese failed, then I'd head to Swallow. Extra corn niblets, please!

Swallow Bistro
1030 N American St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Swallow on Urbanspoon


  1. blackmail is my life said...
    You guys might've been the only other couple seated in restaurant last night. I tried the Southerner with sweet potato fries. I think I would've been happier had I attempted a custom dish, but it wasn't bad.

    I think the hardest thing to judge is the ambience. Liberties Walk is simply death by design. Even if the margins on mac & cheese are better than their previous menu, they still need to find a way to get people in the door.
    Anonymous said...
    I walked by the other day and it looks like Swallow is finished. They were gutting it and there was a new name on the door...

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