2.5 out of 5 stars
2571 Drew St., Clearwater. Appetizers: $6-$14; entrees $10-$18; desserts: $6-$7, beer & cocktails: $2-$9. 727-724-6177, facebook.com/dilladelphia-2118471404848128/.
The Philadelphia Phillies spring training presence in Clearwater goes back to the Truman administration just after WWII. For 50 years they played at the old Jack Russell Stadium, also notable for hosting a fledgling British rock band named The Rolling Stones in 1965. But since 2004, their Florida home has been Spectrum Field.
Now just south of that ballpark is Dilladelphia, a project of Lucky Dill, an established and much-loved restaurant brand in these parts — “home of the sandwich that ate Brooklyn.” It’s replaced the old Sports Legends Bar & Grill and added Philly-themed artwork by St. Petersburg’s Vitale Bros.
Approaching from the west on Drew Street, it’s a bit unclear where to enter to avoid being sucked into the service roads in and around U.S. 19. We circle the building, park and approach from the ramp on the north side. As my posse approaches, there’s a point where all of the big screens on three different planes line up, so your entire field of vision is overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of visual information that's impossible to absorb. Although it’s just a fleeting moment when you see stacks of colorful moving images, far and wide, the onslaught clicks a switch in your brain that shrieks of 1984 dystopia.
There’s no host or server present on the patio, so we go inside to see what offerings present themselves. Inside is a pool table lined with wine-colored velvet. We glance around when a staffer asks, “Do you need something?” The tone isn't exactly welcoming. We announce we’d like to eat and retreat to the outdoor deck.
Service expectations at a sports bar are different than those at a more formal restaurant. There are some scathing critiques, however, from unhappy Yelpers who expect Lucky Dill. Finally, our experience is our server does a perfectly acceptable job with properly adjusted expectations.
What’s confusing is that, several months after the takeover, the Dilladelphia part of the menu is still a limited, “sneak-peak” handout supplementing the old, laminated Sports Legends menu (minus a few sloppy scratch-outs in black marker). To many, it seems like a bait and switch. It’s not Lucky Dill, but the signage plays upon the established brand. And the failure to print a new full menu makes diners wonder where to focus. We try to stick to the handout as much as is practical.
This proves to be a good strategy with pretzel sticks, plus beer cheese. The fat sticks remind me of lobster tails with light-colored striations. The beer dip is pleasant and not too strong. Dilladelphia even includes a cup of warm cheese whiz that also accompanies the Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, which are far juicer than the “sammies” to come.
The menu has a kooky variation on chicken and waffles combining wings with mini-doughnuts. The issue on our visit is it’s 10 of each, which is too much for my table given the other food we’ve got to eat. We jump back to the Legends lineup to check out the wings.
We decide to sample five. The choices are grilled vs. fried with nine flavor options. Mild buffalo sounds like a safe bet. The grilled wings are plump and juicy, but the “mild” sauce packs quite a fiery punch. None of my posse has an asbestos mouth, and we really feel the heat. Be forewarned that “mild” is a relative term. However, the wings conclude a successful round of starters.
Main courses on the Dilladelphia menu are six variations on the Philly cheesesteak, served on authentic Amoroso hoagie rolls. For groups — or lumberjack appetites — there’s an 18-inch king-size version of the traditional cheesesteak. My benchmark is represented by the creamy amalgam of shaved ribeye with melted provolone and caramelized onions that I remember fondly from my youth.
Dilly-Philly is a classic cheesesteak with mushrooms and onions. The pizza steak adds the expected pepperoni, mozzarella and marinara. The servings are huge. We take half of each “sammie” home with half of the hand-cut fries as well. The fries could be crispier; the fact that they’re brown yet not crisp is a failure of technique. The steak sandwiches show promise, but the elements would benefit from being combined. Instead there’s too much of a good thing. The toppings bury the shaved meat instead of co-mingling. The result is the beef seems dry.
The half-pound burger from the Legends menu is a classic presentation, juicy and satisfyingly grilled. There are seven other burgers, but we usually play it straight so garnishes don’t distract from basic technique. This burger is cooked as requested with a nice toasty bun.
Diladelphia's dessert selection has us salivating over the prospect of limoncello cake and tiramisu. Alas, all that’s available is cheesecake and peanut butter pie, which are nowhere in print. Both are light and creamy where my preference is for dense and rich. They’re presented on triangular plates with extraneous blobs of ultra-sweet topping. The cheesecake even has rainbow sprinkles. For me, bold flavors are lacking, and the result is underwhelming.
Overall, Dilladelphia would benefit from deciding what it wants to be and printing new menus that represent the chosen brand. Our experience was too disjointed, and the Philly theme seems like an afterthought.
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