Restaurant Review: Soda & Swine

     

    There is nothing standing in the way of success for Soda & Swine, a new Consortium Holdings-owned restaurant in Normal Heights. Like its sister restaurants Craft & Commerce and Underbelly — both in Little Italy — Soda & Swine delivers what its hip audience really wants: Comfort food done right. 

    For Soda & Swine, it’s all about the small details. The restaurant has communal seating, with two long tables stretching the length of the restaurant. On busier nights, you may rub elbows with some bizarre couples on first dates. Escape to the far end of the restaurant, where a wood-burning fireplace is kept at a comfortable roar. Water is offered from a fire hydrant tap, but a sign warns patrons to “please use with discretion and never take for granted.” Duly noted. Fries are served in miniature sized basket fryers, meatball plates are served on cast-iron skillets and sodas are bottled, never iced. 

    Of course, the restaurant knows what it’s doing with the big-ticket items, namely, soda and swine. Meatballs are prepared in-house from fresh slabs of meat in the back. A 28-strong menu of sodas, ranging from Sioux City Sarsaparilla to a Caribbean-based grapefruit soda is exciting if you’ve never ventured inside Cost Plus or Bristol Farms. It’s difficult to go wrong with any of these options, but the grapefruit-flavored Ting soda ($3) pairs up nicely with the heavier meat-and-cheese dishes ahead. 

    The ordering process is simple choose one of five meatball options (pork, chorizo, beef, chicken and quinoa) in one of four styles of preparation (slider, submarine, plate or with pasta). 

    Served on a thick, crunchy bun, the “Swine” smoked pork slider ($3) defied expectations. Instead of bland, chewy gristle, the tender ground pork gave way to an almost overwhelming smoked flav or. It stood up well against a “chipotle” sauce that was more barbecue than salsa. 

    The “Bovine” slider ($3), a beef, marinara and mozzarella trio was just that — a classic meatball sub. What could have been the Subway of meatballs (used here as an insult) instead became a favorite. The meatball, made of nothing but ground beef, fell apart in chunks of fatty meat.

    The “Hen” meatball plate ($7) and fried polenta ($5) both came on small cast-iron skillets that burned. Served with a thick mushroom sauce, the chicken meatball had the rich flavor and hearty texture of an overprotective mother’s meatloaf.  Just simple ground chicken, the dish was far richer than poultry ever has a right to be. In most restaurants, fried polenta is always served with marinara and mozzarella. It’s an Italian classic, a wheel that doesn’t need to be reinvented. The hunk of polenta was lightly fried, its crisp shell shattering to reveal its creamy interior, and paired with a mild and unadventurous, arrabiata sauce. The mozzarella was the best part — a fresh scoop rested on top, melting under the heat of the skillet. 

    Continuing in the spirit of fresh home cooking, the classic apple pie a la mode ($5) is prepared in-house. Somebody in the kitchen clearly has a vendetta against sugar, because the natural fructose of the apples didn’t cut it. Instead, flavor came from an American-sized coating of cinnamon. Fortunately, a buttery crust and banana-tasting vanilla soft serve nearly made up for all of the pie’s imperfections. 

    It’s food for the indecisive. Soda & Swine’s small-dishes-done-right restaurant concept is already a hit amongst locals who are gentrifying Normal Heights. And the lines don’t look like they’re dying down anytime soon.

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