Back in life, back in reality, the OH ran one the first real American burger and pizza places in Manchester, the Posh Potato, which was frequented by, amongst many others, Piccadilly Radio DJs, Rag Trade moguls, vagrant people who had become lost in Back Piccadilly and the odd Taxi Driver or Traffic Warden. Long ago, in the Seventies, this was a pioneering place as was, of course, the Great American Disaster on Chapel Walks. Before that burgers were sold on botulism-ridden street carts reeking of week-old fried onions, as small thin patties at a Wimpey bar or even in a tin! Who can forget the delights of Goblin tinned hamburgers (complete with gravy) in the Sixties and Seventies? Now some 40 years on, the burger is enjoying its latest rennaissance here in Manchester. For the second time in a month we visit Solita in the Northern quarter.
The name is a clever play on words, echoing and comparing New York’s Nolita district (North of Little Italy) with Manchester’s own little Italy in Ancoats (Thus: South of Little Italy). Now as a born and bred Mancunian, I must confess to only in the last 20 years discovering much about this area of Ancoats. There is a lot of very interesting information here on Little Italy. My only previous personal Italo-Manchester links were a good friend, David Thompson, who participated in Ice cream van wars with Bruno Cabrelli, the weekly Sunday chimes of Carlo, another ice cream man, in Lower Crumpsall and I also recall a teenage fight outside Brown’s in Moston with a lad called Tony Pandolfo. The aforementioned Great American Disaster also employed a waiter called Umberto who may have gone on to be a radio presenter.
Solita itself is to be found on Turner Street in the heart of the Northern Quarter which is doing very well with a new food or drink venue seeming to open every week. I remember the days when a trip to the Market Restaurant was a serious expedition into an area of Manchester marked on the map by the words: ” Here Be Dragons” with hardly anywhere else to chance a drink before or after your dinner in the area. This time we took in two places before our dinner which could not be more different.
Firstly, we called at the Blue Pig, previously a shop, now tastefully done up in almost a Grand Paris cafe style with an excellent selection of drinks and deli foods during the day and an enticing “333” menu of 3 courses with 3 choices for £20 which read very well. Afterwards we spent an hour at the Millstone on Thomas Street, where a Saturday afternoon “Free & Easy” (old-school Manchester karaoke without a machine!) was in full flow, entertaining a mixed crowd of NQ hipsters and more stalwart, traditional Manchester folk in search of those lost pub singalongs of Collyhurst & Miles Platting.
Solita’s location was previously a fish restaurant called Sole, and the smart shopfit has provided the current occupiers with a good base for the this American style Bar & grill. Think red and black, leather and wood with Roy Lichtenstein inspired comic strip murals.
What we ate on this visit: for starters, the OH chose the Pulled Pork Sundae, a mound of dense spicy pork with a topping of 60/40 mash (60% potato/40% butter) and spiked with strips of crisp streaky bacon. I chose the Nicoise salad with mackerel from the specials board. The fish is done in the famous Inka grill. It is fair to say that the mackerel saved it , as the rest of the dish was a bit bland. A better dressing and perhaps some egg and olives may have perked it up.
For main courses, we both chose burgers,all made from prime chuck steak minced with bone marrow for extra moisture . I went for the KFB, cheese, jalapeños, BBQ sauce and bacon, the OH settling for the Tribute, cheese, pickle, mustard and onions. We both took up the option to add the smoked brisket chilli. Not a lot of conversation took place after the burgers reached the table. They were superb, it is worth coming here just to eat the burgers alone.
Finally we shared the grilled fresh Pineapple soaked in rum and served with coconut ice cream from Dave Thompson’s old adversary, Cabrelli. Solita has an excellent range of wines both by the bottle and the glass, some interesting Belgian and German bottled beers (I indulged myself with an 8% La Chouffe) and, unusually, the restaurant has draught real ale from local brewer, Bank Top.
The bar and waiting staff are both friendly and efficient, at the right level, which reflects no doubt on the manager Dom’s encouragement and aspirations for his restaurant. To use a cliche, What’s not to like? There is a lot more mileage in the menu and we look forward to calling again soon.
All food pictures on this post are courtesy of Dollybakes, an excellent baking, food & cakes blog
Footnote: This is the first food review post for some time, actually the first in 2012. I outlined my frustrations with Urbanspoon’s D Minus in Geography in an earlier post here. It is therefore laughable to see that Urbanspoon locate Solita in Tameside, even the notation of the phone number is up the wall. There are, of course, Turner Streets in Tameside, one each in Denton and Ashton but don’t go there looking for grilled meats or you will end up hungry! If you are reading US, Solita is in the centre of Manchester.