Ever been to Dinardo's? I didn't think so. Unless you're a baby-boomer you're more than likely blissfully unaware of it's 30+ year presence on Race street in old city. They were around before Vetri and Garces had even walked into a culinary school kitchen. They were around before Staar bought his first property. And if you walk through the doors you will realize that not much has changed since they first opened.
I have recollections from my childhood of my father walking through the front door with a tray of crabs on a Friday night, dumping them on the newspaper lined kitchen table and my parents going to town with bowls of melted butter at the ready. I remember being slightly dismayed watching the crabs being dismembered and then delighted when I would get a piece of the buttery meat. It was such a spectacle. When I saw a Groupon pop up advertising $75 worth of seafood for $35, I figured it was worth a gamble.
Now I have to say, the food wasn't terrible. But it wasn't exactly great either. It was more like a trip to Red Lobster than the fresh tastes of Sansom StreetOyster or Luke's Lobster or even Route 6. Just about everything comes broiled, stuffed or fried. That's pretty much the extent of their culinary repertoire. Straight out of 1974, each plate is served with an enormous piece of lettuce as a "garnish".
The crab appetizer was a highlight. Massive hunks of crab meat piled high with a lemon wedge and a decent cocktail sauce. They definitely don't skimp on portions here. This would be an entrée size serving at any place not in the suburbs. Garlicky crabs were also tasty, even if there were a bit on the small side. The pool of garlic butter they are floating in though is a recipe for disaster with anything resembling a decent shirt. They should serve this with a side of club soda and a Tide-to-Go stick.
Stuffed mushrooms were filling. That's about all I can say. The bready/crabby stuffing was like a bad crab cake and the mushrooms had a strange rubbery consistency that is anything but appetizing. A squirt of lemon juice is not going to save them. The fried platter is just that - every reasonably healthy piece of seafood on the menu, breaded and fried into oblivion. I wish I could tell you there was a taste difference between the scallops, shrimp flounder & crab cake, but I'd be lying. The menu claims the french fries are "Award Winning". They were pretty much just normal fries. The side of broccoli was pretty tasty though, and it was nice to see something green other than the lettuce garnish.
Sadly, Dinardo's days as a seafood destination have long such passed. The restaurant renaissance of the last 15 years has gone largely unnoticed here. The floors are carpeted. Adorning the walls are nautical themed decorations - think fishing tackle, nets, and fake seagulls. The best beer they have on tap is Yuengling. The smell of frying oil permeates everything. The servers are nice enough, but none of them are under 50. I'm pretty sure they were here when my dad was buying crabs in '87.
This is not fine dining - and maybe I should not have expected that. It's more reminiscent of the overpriced seafood houses down the shore that you grew up eating at. If you fry it, they will come. I do have to give them some props for keeping the lights on and a steady crowd of customers coming through the door. Like La Buca off Washington Square, this place is a dinosaur that has managed to stick to it's guns and still turn a profit. Three decades on, that is something impressive on its own. Wonder if Route 6 will still be serving blue fish dip in 2043?
Food Baby Rating: Only Child
312 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106