Spiga benefits from a convenient location, between 13th and Broad streets, as well as a cozy and comfortable interior that beats the sometimes-uninspiring view of the 1300 block of Locust.
The appetizers and small plates generated the most excitement. The white bean and rosemary truffle spread ($4) made us temporarily forget how unimpressed we are with how much every other restaurant in the city uses truffle oil like it’s the holy grail of ingredients. The wood-fired eggplant caponata ($4) was delightfully fresh and bright. The polenta fries ($6) are likely to inspire repeat visits. The Spiga fries with parmigiano cream ($4) makes for a lovely side dish (but probably would get passed over in favor of their polenta cousins, if we had to choose). The caprino croccante ($4), a crispy piece of goat cheese in a red beet dip, was an inspired dish that left us wondering what else is on the horizon.
Spiga also has a brick oven — and knows how to use it. The most interesting of the pizza selections was the strawberry and balsamic onion with robiola cheese pizza ($14). Yeah, we know ... strawberries on a pizza? It works! The sweetness of the strawberries somehow balances out the acidity of the balsamic onions and the richness of the cheese. The more-classic margherita ($12), however, didn’t elevate itself past the sum of its parts. If you want to stand out in this town, there has to be some magic in the sauce or the crust.
On the pasta menu, the same indifference could be applied to the gnocchi di porcini ($15), which was pleasant enough as a comfort dish but lacking spark. Things rebounded with the orecchiette with robiola cheese basil and tomato ($12), which had a greater texture and flavor.
The best dish of the evening was on the entrée menu: the pork chop peperonata with pecorino cheese sauce ($22). The pork chop on its own was nice and juicy, but the topping of sweet and spicy peppers and onions and the creaminess of the sauce really made the dish something very special, and made us lament the internal real estate we had used to accommodate the gnocchi.
Things went from the zenith to the nadir with the branzino infused with garlic oil and lemon (market price). While we appreciate sticking to rustic tradition — serving the fish relatively whole — one bite yielded an abundance of bones and a disheartening lack of seasoning.
It was around this time that we were treated to a cucumber and orange martini. It looked nice. It smelled heavenly (can we get this as an air freshener?). We’ll chalk up our reluctance to inhale the drink (it kind of tastes like air freshener) to the fact that gin isn’t one of our go-to spirits.
Dessert brought things back to a happy place. That magic we were looking for in the margherita pizza materialized in the fig and mascarpone pizza ($6), which was sweet, decadent perfection. The cannoli trio ($6) of chocolate, pistachio and vanilla were great in a traditional way (and really, what Italian restaurant would dare show its face with less-than-perfect cannoli?).
All things considered, Spiga has a lot going for it, principally some talent in the kitchen. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do once they work out some of the rough edges on the menu.