Photo by Stevie Chris

Letter of RecommendationPhiladelphia

The People Are What Makes Messina Social Club a Perfect Neighborhood Restaurant


“Tonight’s dessert is a trio.”

Messina Social Club head bartender Mike Nimmo Jr. began filling three glasses before us. “In your coupe glasses, you’ll find Snickers, three ways: at room temperature, from the fridge, and frozen. Please enjoy.”

We’d reached the end of our tasting menu, an evening that started with an amuse bouche of Oreo Space Dunk cookies and concluded with Snickers chocolate bars, an inside joke between Mike and me about our favorite childhood treats. Other drinks that night complemented executive chef Eddie Konrad’s stellar dishes: Vitello tonnato with Domaine Dupasquier rosé; Hokkaido scallops with a 2019 Tamellini Soave Millesimato; crab and spaghetti squash with Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo sake; risotto Milanese with a 2020 Arndorfer Riesling; roasted chicken with a 2020 Podere Pradarolo Vej Bianco Antico; and butterscotch budino with Hakutsuru plum wine.

Mike and his bar team made the occasion extra special for us with surprise splashes of bubbles, a fruit smoothie palate cleanser, and shots of amaro in between courses. That evening, my husband and I were transported back to our first visit to Messina in September 2021, when we shut the bar down with their entire crew, post-meal. I knew there was no better restaurant to celebrate my birthday.

This dichotomy between polished dinner service and late-night fun defies expectations for a 100-plus-year-old members-only South Philadelphia club. Thankfully, owner Jason Cichonski revived this neighborhood institution in 2019 with some of the best people he knew in the restaurant and bar business. And it’s why I keep coming back.

Years ago, Eddie and his team at Laurel on Passyunk Avenue often hung out together after hours next door at Townsend, where Mike tended bar. Everyone’s hard work and genuine interest in spending time together post-shift stayed with Mike. Years later, Jason approached Eddie, a fellow “Top Chef” alumnus and friend, to become Messina’s partner and executive chef. Eddie signed on and recruited mutual friend Andrew Boerckel, a High Street Hospitality alumnus, as general manager. Andrew knew he wanted Mike to lead the cocktail program, and in 2022, he officially joined Messina. Together, they lead my favorite restaurant in East Passyunk.

“The restaurant is not just a business; it’s a goal,” says Eddie, who’s keen on service from a happy staff as the most important factor of success. “It needs to grow every single day; everyone should get better.”

I love rubbing elbows with other Messina members, who come from all walks of life: You’ll find O.G. club members, special occasion guests dressed to the nines, rowdy late-night industry crowds, East Passyunk neighbors like me, and musicians from Snacktime, Philly’s favorite local band, who are known to host a cowboy-themed pop-up inside Messina’s bar from time to time.

To me, Eddie, Mike, and Andrew embody a true standby team: I always feel loved as soon as I walk through the discreet doors. Yes, it’s members-only but everyone is welcome (members can bring up to three guests). No one’s here to see and be seen, and you can take pictures of your food. What’s also cool is that nothing — service, staff, or food — suffers in the name of fun. Despite Eddie’s focused and fairly buttoned-up approach to cooking, things aren’t dogmatic. There is no theme or singular cuisine, so the food isn’t married to a specific concept; the menu changes often, and the price point isn’t exclusionary. Dishes are always stunning in presentation and execution, balancing refined and rustic, serious and delicate, familiar and surprising. I like how Eddie often weaves in his Italian and Polish heritage with a South Philly personality, best experienced in the $95 tasting menu (plus $65 for the beverage pairing) which, in my honest opinion, is one of the most underrated dining experiences in Philly.

Over the years, I’ve revered countless dishes that have become part of Messina’s repertoire and only return on a limited-edition Messina anniversary menu. Like the duck l’orange made with dry-aged duck, dry-aged confit terrine, and crispy duck skin with orange braised endive and carrot orange purée. There was a half-roasted chicken special, Peking duck style, that’s hung to dry for several days, then slow roasted and crisped at the last second, served simply with seasonal sides that I would call in ahead of time to reserve my plate. Their salmon crudo (my go-to break from red meat) is a melt-in-your-mouth fish dressed in smoked buttermilk with a side of beet ragout, dill, and roe that I crave regularly.

Writer Alisha Miranda photographed in her favorite booth at Messina Social Club. Photo by Clay Williams
Writer Alisha Miranda photographed in her favorite booth at Messina Social Club. Photo by Clay Williams

Dining at Messina always feels like a dinner party, especially when seriously fueled by their cocktails, which include a killer amaro-based espresso martini (a nod to Messina’s Italian roots) and a milk punch called Here for The Zipline, a favorite of mine that never not makes me laugh.

There’s a fine line to merging old and new here, but Messina is doing it right. And while Passyunk’s nightlife is (very) slowly bouncing back from the pandemic, Messina feels like the only cocktail-centric destination keeping the neighborhood scene alive.

I credit Andrew for the cozy ambiance; he’s a front-of-house gem, who never fails to engage with guests, especially post-pandemic. He’s got a warm smile, a quiet voice, and calm confidence that extends to the rest of the staff. It’s reassuring to see the staff have fun with each other on the job and make friends with guests. I especially love being greeted by high-fives whenever I walk in. Sitting at the bar cracking jokes with server Nick Vieira about his fashion sense. Interrogating Mike about his latest amaro or rum back bar collection. Doing a photo shoot at my favorite corner booth, or dropping off home-cooked food for staff meals.

“I work with incredibly talented people,” Andrew says. “My job is to ensure they have everything to use this platform.”

“I’m very proud of what we do here,” Mike adds.

So am I.

Messina Social Club is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. The bar is open until 11 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Annual membership is $25 — more info here.

Alisha Miranda is a Philadelphia journalist, digital producer, and #LatinxIndustryNight host. Follow her at @alishainthebiz. Follow Resy, too.

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