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Germantown Avenue is a classy, cobblestoned corridor as it ascends the Chestnut Hill, arguably Philly’s most gentrified, pristinely preserved quarter. An extended shopping district flanks this colonial-era thoroughfare with rows of old shops. In the midst of the scene sits the Solaris Grille. Mixing a heaping of class with a dash of funkiness, this popular eatery has become a landmark not only for locals but also for devoted John Anderson fans.
John Anderson is the chef at the Solaris Grille. He’s a Culinary Institute of America graduate who worked in a number of prestigious kitchens before setting up shop at the Solaris Grille. John's loyal followers have followed him to this stylish edifice on Germantown Avenue.
A red brick patio brightens the entrance way. Atop, a handsome cantilevered sign beckons with a smiling sun circled by the words Solaris Grille. In the winter, the entrance glistens and gleams with Yuletide charm, but the summertime brings further allure to the Solaris Grill. The al fresco dining is nonpareil for this part of the city. The large outdoor garden places the diner in the catbird seat, with a view of the battalions of preppy and peppy Chestnut Hill shoppers. On delightful spring days and mellow Philly summer evenings--especially when live jazz is playing--the Solaris Grill is the most happening spot in this 'hood.
Inside, the vibe is invigorating. The bar room rocks without tipping the bar of Chestnut Hill decorum. The staff feeds into that pulse. They feed off it as well, since the Solaris clientele is generally cheery and hip. Staff members are young, familiar with the nuances of the menu, and happy to be going about their chores – an attitude that’s disappearing from many restaurant landscapes.
Ask your server to recommend one of the cool specialty cocktails that the bar crew mixes up like a Jack and the Giant Peach. Absolut A peach, DeKuyper’s Peach Schnapps, Looza Peach Nectar with some Jack Daniel’s thrown in for good measure musters up enough peach power to keep Georgia's economy healthy for a year. You might also opt for a Passion Kiss, Rangpur Lemonade, or one of the other ambitious concoctions on the specialty drink list.
Solaris Grille posts a modest but balanced, smartly selected wine list. Wines are available by the bottle or glass. You have your choice of a number of domestics, as well as a slate of imports from Australia, Chile, and France.
Chef-owner John Anderson makes the food the thing at Solaris Grille. The kitchen crew's motto is “If we do it, we do it right.” Indeed they do. They serve lunch and dinner daily. On Sunday, from 10:30 until 4:00, à la carte brunch is served in lieu of lunch. The casual cosmo vibe here is a welcome respite from Chestnut Hill or Center City shopping.
Underscoring the Solaris Grille's appeal as a great drop-in spot for meals and in-between-meal whims, appetizers and sandwiches serve triple duty, appearing on the brunch, lunch and dinner menus. The Solaris Grille prides itself as a satisfier of a wide spectrum of dining moods. It's a comfortable venue where serious dining and fun-food devotees cohabitate seamlessly. You'll see button-down Chestnut Hill types savoring the Grille’s delicious entrees at the same table where their young professional or collegiate twenty-something kids are chowing down on items from the extensive sandwich menu. Solaris Grille is also child-friendly.
The main dining room, with its high walls of beige and heavy gray floor tiles, insinuates unpretentious class that harmonizes with the Chestnut Hill rhythm. Large, double-sash windows adorned with French drapes line up at short intervals along the wall and afford a pleasant vista onto the pedestrian traffic. Inside the main dining room, a winsome energy abets the dining experience. Indeed as the chef intends, dinner guests feel comfortable ordering from any nook and cranny of the extensive menu from soups, salads and sandwiches to fine dining creations - as I experienced first hand on a recent visit.
I had arranged to meet a couple famished ex-college mates at the Solaris Grille. They were visiting Philly for a convention. They were charmed by the Chestnut Hill quarter and seduced by the laid back, SoCal vibe that rules at the Solaris Grille. As it turned out, at the appointed meeting hour, we found ourselves out of sync in the eating cycle.
One of my conventioneering friends was all about taking advantage of his firm's expense account, although the reasonable prices at the Solaris Grille won't cause his company auditors' much agita. My companion and I echoed his mood. However, our other conventioneering friend had spent an overly-munchy day running between lecture halls and goody-stuffed breakout sessions. He wasn’t hungry enough for another large meal so he opted for a sandwich, while the rest of us ordered a full 3-course meal.
Orchestrating the timing for serving sandwich orders at the same table with three- or four-course dinner orders throws some servers and kitchens into a tizzy. However, our meal remained well timed and stayed on an even keel all evening. Our server managed the flow of the meal service impeccably.
Appetizers include a number of upscaled finger-food favorites like nachos and potstickers. The kitchen succeeds in tweaking even the plebeian dishes into something special. Calamari, tender, fresh and succulent, are rolled and clad in a thin coating of herbs, topped with grated parmesan cheese, and surrounded with a creamy rust-colored tomato sauce redolent of Old Bay spices. The Old Bay puts a sensuous, almost surprising aromatic exclamation point into each bite that offers a palpable hint of the sea itself.
Jumbo Coconut Shrimp, plump and pleasing, line the perimeter of a large plate. Each is dipped and deep-fried in a batter bolstered with beer and shredded coconut resulting in a smooth, light coating that cracks a crunch into each bite of shrimp. The shrimp is served with a sweet, creamy sauce with notable mustardy oomph that floats some punchiness into the flavor pool in this textural treat.
The dinner menu features grilled items and house specialties like Sautéed Crabcakes and Seared Dry Packed Scallops. I find that the chef demonstrates his best chops in his deft handling of Italian classics. Fluffy house-made Wild Mushroom Ravioli slicked in creamy pesto sauce pack a hefty payload of earthy mushrooms. The pasta pillows give the sensation of being so light they need mushrooms to keep them earthbound. The dish itself is presented on a large plate that frames all these ingredients whose earth-toned colors appear like an appetizing, Millet-esque fall palette.
Made-in-house Ricotta Gnocchi, delicate and light, plays harmony to a symphony of sautéed spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. The copious sun-dried tomatoes that stud the ensemble bring a just-right lick of sweetness to the party. The gnocchi itself is wetted with pesto amped by a muscular goat cheese that adds creamy smoothness.
The Bacon-Wrapped Ribeye Skewer crams huge chunks of tender, deliciously marbled steak enveloped in bacon and interspersed with onions and peppers into a heaping foot-long-plus queue that spans the width of the plate and then some. The succulent lineup is cooked meticulously over a grill and served over mashed potatoes with a corn salsa and ancho chile cream sauce that fire up each savory mouthful. The dish is grilled with uncommon skill. None of the edibles, whether meat or vegetable, in the pierced chain lose an ooze of succulence in the grilling process. This destination dish is certain to satisfy everyone's inner gourmet and outer gourmand.
As you would expect at an eatery with Grille in its handle, the Solaris Grille offers a number of other outstanding grilled dishes besides the Ribeye Skewer. The kitchen flashes nice Asian flourishes in the Indonesian Soy-Brushed Salmon. The soy sauce exudes an appealing scent and gives tasty lift to meaty salmon filet. A medley of lightly stir-fried vegetables like onions, string beans, and asparagus enhance the subtly sweet theme of the soy-brushed fish with lo mein noodles, adding moderating texture to a dish that brings salmon up to full pizzazz.
Year-round, the Solaris Grille is a dynamite spot to celebrate with friends and raise a glass or two to whatever bends your arm. Without guilt, you can order a hamburger while your friends feast on three delicious, European-paced courses. In the summer, you can linger on the 120-seat patio enjoying great finger-foods and drinks while listening to live jazz groups that entertain frequently. They've got the beat and, no matter the state of your appetite, you'll find the Solaris Grille tough to beat.
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Took a friend to Solaris this afternoon for lunch, and had the boneless chicken wing for an appetizer which were quite tasty. I also ordered the angus burger, and asked to have it cooked medium-well. Once it arrived, it was well over-cooked instead. I mentioned it to the waitress, she smirked and said she told "them" to cook it medium-well. No apology, and left with a burnt hamburger but no big deal as I will never return to that crummy dump...