549 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
The Institute is a bar at which I sometimes drink, but truth be told, I usually forget about it when I am formulating my evening plans. I had eaten there a couple of years ago, and actually quite enjoyed it, but I hadn't been back to eat for a while. When I got tipped off that the menu was just re-done, I figured it was as good a time as any to see what the current food situation was like.
We started with a beer, which given their pretty extensive craft brew selection, quickly escalated into a few more. The beers are a bit on the expensive side, with nothing less than $5 and some as much as $8. The interior is finished in a sort of industrial bar-next-door theme. Dark and inviting, though not intimidatingly so.
The sambhar nachos, for a starter, are freaking fantastic. Lentil curry, black bean cilantro relish, jicama slaw and a mango-jalapeno coulis. Not exactly what you would expect to see on nachos, and now I will be longing for the interesting Indian flavors and varying textures next time I am eating mediocre bar nachos. For a vegetarian nacho plate, these were especially top-notch.
The pumpkin mac was another delicious starter, boasting pumpkin puree, boursin, goat cheese, caramelized onions and fresh herbs. The pumpkin flavor, which I thought would have been questionable, was quite good. If you are getting this as an appetizer, you'll definitely want to split it (or get the half order). Creamy, hearty and rich, this was a delicious riff on traditional mac without being cloyingly indulgent.
For the mains, a burger was/is a must. The "Goats in Roam" style was the one that caught my eye. Bedazzled with bacon, oyster mushrooms, goat cheese and MORE boursin – I never said this was diet food.
This burger was pure decadence. The meat was well seasoned, PERECTLY medium rare, and the star of this sandwich. The accompaniments played a strong supporting role: earthy, meaty mushrooms, crisp veggies, smoky bacon and salty goat cheese, this is a burger to be reckoned with. I have to give this one a high approval rating on my burger radar. The tots were also good, crispy, salty and freshly fried. I had to go ahead and ask for a variety of dips, from the miso aioli (umami filled and fantastic) to the adjika (light, fresh and packed with flavor) to a side of gravy (see below). The miso and adjika were both inventive and delicious dipping sauces, a clear path to my heart.
The grizzled pork was a huge sandwich stuffed with pulled pork, jalapeno, caramelized onion, sharp cheddar and served with your choice of chipotle bbq or gravy. I went on a limb and ordered the gravy, but I should have stuck with the bbq. The pork itself was great, slightly crispy ends, tender & well-pulled overall and nicely seasoned. The jalapeno and onions were fresh additions, but I felt the cheddar was a bit over-powering and the gravy was flavorless. It was like a roux that had never moved past the blond stage. The fries were another perfect rendition. Salty, crispy, and freshly fried, these are what I want to slap every shitty french fry in the city with. Tough love.
Don't worry when you walk in, as the pictures may tell, it's pretty dark in here come nightfall. The atmosphere is pretty friendly, and the best selection is worth the trip alone. Luckily for us (and them) the food is the real draw, and this is another great addition to the bar food options available in this up and coming neighborhood.