very good

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August, 2005 lots Moderate

3rd and Brown


specials, soups, onion soup

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North Third is one of those funky neighborhood places that seem to flourish best in transitional neighborhoods like Northern Liberties. It's arty and bohemian, but not precious, down to earth yet sophisticated, a good spot for a beer and a burger or a glass of wine and some sautéed fish.

We've always liked the food here, and it seems to have gotten a bit more reliable and assured since Peter Dunmire took over the stove in the fall of 2003. Dunmire has cooked in a few of the best kitchens in Philly, so it's a little surprising to find him here making chicken wings, burgers, ribs and quesadillas. But his skills shine in the very fine execution of these homey standards as well as an array of more sophisticated daily blackboard specials.

They always feature several good microbrews on tap, as well as an array of large bottles of Belgian Ales. There are interesting selections of wine at a reasonable $6 for a glass or $20 for the bottle. At brunch there are a few outrageous drinks. The Bloody Mary looks great, but I'm a bit afraid of it, there's so much greenery sprouting from the glass I fear there may be monkeys swinging through the canopy. DDP made a weird face at the blood orange margarita, but then, he drank it..... I have a hard time diverging from the very fine selection of craft beers.

We've had several excellent soups. A hearty white bean was thick enough that it could have been eaten with a fork, but you wouldn't want to miss any of the wonderful broth, spiked with herbs and smoky ham. An herby Tomato bisque was good enough on its own, but was improved by a dollop of goat cheese afloat on a crouton. Gazpacho was cool and refreshing, with a nice snap of lime and cilantro. The only disappointment that has appeared in a bowl was the onion soup, a rather mundane broth topped with a crouton and the inexcuseable provelone cheese that seems to blanket so many crocks around here. Good god, this isn't Applebee's, put some freaking Gruyere on there!

Vegetable Spring Rolls are the best we've had outside of Asian restaurants (and better than some of them...) with a zingy chili dipping sauce and a tasty sesame dressed slaw. A frequently offered summery tomato salad special features perfectly ripe and flavorful tomatoes accented with mozzarella, basil pesto and aged balsamic vinegar.

Simple pub food is especially good here: Bee's backyard Burger is huge (and tasty) and accompanied by about a bushel of well-made fries. Their Roast Pork sandwich is not quite up to the standard of the Standard Tap around the corner, but it's still quite satisfying, with thick slices of pork, roasted peppers, greens and sharp provolone on a crusty ciabatta roll, a slather of horseradish perking it up. The Barbeque Ribs have changed since the original incarnation, one of the kitchen's early high points. I kind-of miss the sticky-sweet glaze on the old style, but Dunmire's more tomatoey, spicier sauce is nothing to complain about.

I recently had the basic roasted Chicken and it was really quite satisfying, a very juicy, full-flavored breast, a quarter of a chicken, placed on top of a large pile of excellent mashed potatoes, and perfectly seasoned spinach. An intense, herby gravy ringed the potatoes. I am often bored by restaurants' roasted chicken, but this was excellent.

The nice surprise is that the more sophisticated entrees one might expect to see at fancier (and more expensive) bistros further south are every bit as good. There's often an interesting pork loin preparation, we've had one with a mustard sauce accompanied by braised cabbage. There's usually something resembling a "steak frites" and fish in an interesting sauce. DDP recently had a scallop and softshell crab "scampi," perfectly cooked seafood in a garlicky, creamy sauce. A recent special of black bass wrapped in prosciutto, roasted and served atop a mushroom risotto was elegant and delicious.

There's always basic Fish and Chips, and a Grilled Salmon with a buttery mustard sauce.

Dessert is limited and hit-or-miss, but sometimes very good, often featuring some type of bread pudding, a brownie sundae (the brownie's a little dry...) excellent homemade ice creams and sorbets, and perhaps one or two more specials.

This is still a Northern Liberties neighborhood joint, so it can get a bit loud, and sometimes the occasional movies in the back room or even the TV at the bar might interfere with a tranquil private moment, but the overall vibe is very friendly and welcoming.

OK, we'll admit it, DDP and I go there partly because we have pathetic crushes on couple of the waitresses, but we're just snobby enough about the food that we wouldn't indulge those fantasies if the food wasn't up to snuff.

So next time you're in the neighborhood and need some comfort food, either basic or fancy, stop by North 3rd and get a pint of interesting beer, some good food, and hey! don't get fresh with the waitresses.

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