On a visit to Italy, Philadelphia chef and restaurant owner Marc Vetri was overcome by the large beer culture that was beginning to evolve. Inspired by beer-centric restaurants abroad and in the United States, Vetri opened his first gastro pub, Alla Spina, just two months ago.

Alla-SpinaAlla SpinaOffering a pub-style menu with an Italian influence, the 100-seat restaurant has 20 beers on tap and 60 bottled selections. At press time, Vetri was working with a local brewery to produce a signature beer line.

His company, Vetri Family Restaurants, also operates Vetri, a high-end Italian restaurant; Amis, which is modeled after a Roman trattoria; and Osteria, a casual spot that produces pizza in a wood oven.

FE&S spoke with Vetri about his new gastro pub and the segment as a whole.

FE&S: How do you define a gastro pub?

MV: It is its own phenomenon. This segment was developed 10 years ago when someone realized that pubs generally have awful food. These restaurants are the result of folks wanting to eat well when they go out for beers. Gastro pubs don't take anything away from fine dining, but offer another flavor.

FE&S: Why did you decide to open a gastro pub?

MV: I saw many gastro pubs emerging. There really is a large market for casual dining. Folks are starting to get more into beer, as well as wine, and artisan beers are starting to take hold here. We want to embrace that.

FE&S: What makes your operation unique?

MV: The ambiance of Alla Spina is unique. We went to a company that makes doors for airplane hangers, and they created a garage-type door for us. It's massive, like everything else in the restaurant. The ambiance is very industrial, from the real I beams to the clunky light fixtures and railings. Our bar top is constructed of recycled beer bottles, and chairs are made of salvaged coke bottles. The d├ęcor is reminiscent of an old gas station from the '60s right up to our big neon sign.

FE&S: Describe the equipment involved in a gastro pub.

MV: Our kitchen's equipment is very minimal. We have a couple of convection ovens, big plancha with six burners, salamander, Panini press and two fryers. There are many reach-ins for storage and slicers for prep work. The restaurant is about 3,500 square feet, and the kitchen takes up 35 percent of it.

FE&S: What do you look for when purchasing equipment?

MV: Over the years, we've learned what we like. As a rule, it's durability over cost. Low maintenance also is important. I would rather spend more money on the front end because I know I'll be saving on the back end. We're loyal to the equipment we've been using. Also, energy efficiency comes into play.

FE&S: What equipment innovations have impacted your operations?

MV: I'm a big fan of the cooking technique always winning over modern innovations. I can make a steak that looks as if it was sous vide on a hot iron or over a fire. I prefer to actually cook food and not alter it.

FE&S: What are the menu's highlights?

MV: It includes mortadella hot dogs, veal tartare with apples and pork shoulder sandwiches. There are meat selections to feed four to six people, including a baby pig's head. We also offer traditional lasagna, a refined version of mac and cheese and beer floats for dessert that highlight our brew offerings. Homemade pretzels with beer-cheese dip, fried focaccia with Italian chocolate, salamis and oysters also are available.

FE&S: What is the biggest challenge facing the gastro pub segment?

MV: Creating a menu that fits the space is always the most difficult thing, and we accomplish this through trial and error. Before creating Alla Spina, we took many R&D trips to gastro pubs in Montreal, Boston and other cities.

FE&S: Describe the atmosphere.

MV: Alla Spina is a little in your face, with heavy metal music as the backdrop. It will appeal to everyone. Being in the restaurant business as long as I have, I've learned not to assume who my clientele will be. People like to sample different experiences when dining out.

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