One thing that hits you as soon as you walk in to Rhythm & Spirits, the Orange Loop’s newest bar/restaurant/nightlife venue is that the place is dripping with character. A hip spot on a hip block in a sometimes unhip town, its concept is a result of a partnership between local developer and self-proclaimed foodie Mark Callazzo and Lee Sanchez of STW Hospitality, who has put his stamp on just about everything from the drinks to the food to the furniture and the overall concept.
“It was Lee’s idea to have a dinner venue that adds an entertainment aspect at night. So you and your wife come for dinner and then there is a comedy show or maybe a band afterwards. It’s a whole night out, but in one venue. Right now our entertainment is on hold due to COVID, but it will be back,” promises Callazzo.
The third big name in the mix is Kevin Cronin, who made a name for himself as the executive chef at Callazzo’s former A.C. restaurant, The Iron Room. Cronin was the obvious choice to be in command in the kitchen at Rhythm & Spirits, this time serving his take on Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and rounding out the all-star team.
As you walk toward it, the exterior of Rhythm & Spirits builds anticipation with a glowing marquee – the type that one might expect to be advertising Triple-X movie titles in the Atlantic City of 20 years ago – and a bubblegum pink door that clearly suggests something exciting waits behind it. Once inside, the space is cozy without being tight. Walls are dark but accented in bursts of bright green thanks to some botanically-themed wallpaper. Drinks are prepared in old-school mixing glasses. A subtle, hipsterish aura wafts from the pores of Rhythm & Spirits, but never becomes overbearing or unwelcoming.
The outdoor space is where most of the action takes place for now, and it manages to be charming and trendy in its own way, with an array of tables set on top of loose stones all backing up to a shipping container that houses a full kitchen inside. Plans are in place to keep guests warm and dry as the cooler months arrive with heat lamps and a more permanent covering.
“The plan is to go as long as we can,” Cronin says. “Hopefully we can stretch things into at least November, but we’ll see.”
Behind the bar, both the wine list and the drink menus are superb – cocktails at Rhythm & Spirits leapfrog between classics like their superb 7.19 Manhattan, made with a bourbon simple syrup infused with local cherries, and more exotic options such as the pineapple margarita, with Patron tequila and their signature triple lime, plus hints of orange, lemon and pineapple. The vibe is vaguely tiki with some fun drinkware to match.
The Iron Room may be gone, but much of its mojo remains and has morphed into the culinary arm of Rhythm & Spirits.
“Originally The Iron Room was going to stay where it was (on Albany Avenue in Atlantic City) and Rhythm & Spirits was going to be a completely different concept,” Callazzo explains. “But then I realized that I have always been pushing for everything to be on the Orange Loop, so I needed to put my money where my mouth was and bring The Iron Room there. So that’s when we came up with the idea of combining the new Rhythm & Spirits concept with Kevin’s spin on Italian food.”
Cronin’s spin is anything but traditional, but that is just fine. His menu makes for a fun ride, with some delightfully flavorful twists and turns, offering up an array of creative dishes in a decidedly unstuffy atmosphere.
The salami toast ($15) is an exquisite way to start a meal, and does a masterful job of blending salty and sweet with artisanal genoa salami, honey-whipped ricotta, chive-infused olive oil, sundried tomato and black pepper jam on a house-made sourdough. Main entrees include an oven-roasted, 10-ounce Heritage pork chop ($32) with Nueske’s bacon and a kalamata ragu, a vegetable risotto with fennel and arugula puree alongside summer squash and celery root and one of Cronin’s signature dishes, an incredibly tasty meatloaf mix Bolognese ($28) which starts with radiator pasta and imparts a touch of cream cheese to smooth out the house red sauce, which is packed with Nueske’s bacon, pork, beef and veal.
“I like to imagine the menu concept as something that might be created by an Italian who has been abroad for a while and has now come back home. He’s decided to construct dishes based on what he has learned and different flavors he has experienced, while still adding his own familiar Italian aspects to them,” Cronin explains.
Sanchez sums it up more simply: “Our food, while Italian at heart, is inspired by travel, culture and experience, as are our cocktails.”
But the secret weapon at Rhythm & Spirits might just be the pizzas. Eons away from what you might expect to see on the menu of your local pizzeria, Cronin’s pies are in a league all their own. Outside-the-box flavor concepts blend masterfully in such creations as the charcuterie pie ($12) which features smoky tomato sauce and Manchego topped with assorted salumi cups, or the Southern fried pie ($12), an indulgent and satisfying pizza of fried buttermilk-brined chicken thighs with Cronin’s OGIR Mac Sauce (if you’ve been to The Iron Room you know all about this sauce that topped their mac & cheese) and a drizzle of Hank Sauce to add a bit of bite on the back end. And for the seafood lover in you, there is the shrimp cocktail pie ($14), a daring treat with shrimp, Cooper sharp cheese and cocktail sauce — no chilled martini glass needed. A full subsection of the menu is devoted to pizzas, and part of the fun is trying a new one each time you visit.
Dinner is not the only game in town at Rhythm & Spirits, as their Sunday brunch makes for a fun and festive way to party like you don’t have work the next day. Like any great brunch, the menu includes options that tilt toward both breakfast and lunch. Breakfast highlights include the All Day Breakfast Sandwich ($7), with your choice of bacon, pork roll or scrapple topped with Cooper sharp cheese and an egg, as well as the goat cheese and herb omelet ($12). Those with a sweet tooth may prefer the Parsley Pancake Stack, which comes prepared with pistachio, artisanal chocolate and maple butter. The lunch options are plentiful as well and include items such as pizzas, salads and sandwiches, including the Iron Room Cheesesteak ($11) with chopped hangar steak, OG mac sauce and an option to add fried onions, mushrooms or pickled chilis, or the Southern fried chicken sandwich ($14), Cronin’s take on a fast food classic, with house pickles, sambal, lettuce, Grafton cheddar and a buttermilk chive dressing on a King’s Hawaiian bun, served with a side of chips. The brunch menu changes weekly, so check the website for details.
With all the bouncing around they’ve done you might wonder if the move from Iron Room to Rhythm & Spirits comes with any regrets. But Cronin seems to take it all in stride.
“It’s been fun. I’m appreciative of what we were able to do over there at the Iron Room, but I’m happy we made the move over here. We’re in the right spot,” he says.
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