REVIEW: The third time's a real charmer as the first-rate wine bar Terzo becomes the latest addition to the Broder restaurant family.
Leave it to the remarkable Broder family — mother Molly and sons Thomas, Charlie and Danny — to challenge the wine bar status quo with Terzo.
The name is the Italian word for third, possibly a tip of the hat to the Broder male troika but definitely an acknowledgment of another sibling relationship: It’s the third family-owned enterprise at the corner of 50th and Penn, joining 31-year-old Broders’ Cucina Italiana and 19-year-old Broders’ Pasta Bar.
Let’s start with the first-rate bar. Terzo’s formidable wine program — the work of middle child Charlie Broder, with an assist from general manager and sommelier Melanie Guse — could provide the outline for an edition of “Wine Bar for Dummies.”
The kid-in-a-candy-store roster travels the length of the Italian peninsula, but at its heart is an emphasis on the full-bodied wines of the Piedmont region, with a particularly deep stockpile of prized, single-vineyard Barolos.
“I got kind of carried away,” Charlie Broder said with a laugh. “I took some leeway with the budget. Maybe it’s because I’m young and impulsive, or maybe it’s because my mom is my boss.”
In the spirit of all top-performing wine bars, Terzo’s mechanics both encourage and reward curiosity, with nearly 50 ever-changing by-the-glass options, sold in 3- and 6-ounce pours at competitive prices. In addition, every bottle under $100 — the lion’s share of the cellar — is available by the half-bottle.
Astute buying aside, Terzo’s secret weapon is its service staff, which clearly shares the Broders’ happy obsession with Italian wines. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic and opinionated, they’re exactly the kind of pro you hope to encounter on the other end of a wine list.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘Oh, you serve food here?’ ” said Charlie Broder. Yes, they do. And how.
The kitchen is the domain of his brothers. Danny Broder, fresh from Italy and the total-immersion culinary program where his oldest brother also trained, is responsible for Terzo’s day-to-day operations; oldest sibling and executive chef Thomas Broder oversees all three of the family’s properties. At Terzo, their collaborative cooking embraces finesse, playfulness, seasonality and a respect for the classics.
A flexible format emphasizes shareable dishes. The menu’s only pasta is somewhat unorthodox, but not since Beer Nuts has a bar snack held such promise. I’m referring to what the menu modestly labels puffed fusilli.
It’s basically snippets of corkscrew-shaped pasta, boiled four or five times longer than necessary and then dried, deep-fried and sent out to greet its adoring public with a dash of herbed salt. It’s oddly addicting, with a shape that a person just can’t help but pick up and a texture that’s crunchy, but not overbearingly so. Does the snack division at General Mills know about this?
An utterly unadorned bruschetta — just a grilled slice of hearty house-baked bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with a tantalizingly full-bodied olive oil — embodies the simple goodness of Italian cooking. Other bruschetta add-ons manage to transport taste buds while remaining similarly uncomplicated: woody, finely chopped mushrooms, or a runny egg yolk paired with cool, ripe tomatoes.
The changes-daily bruschetta takes its cues from the local larder. On one recent visit, it was a swipe of tangy herbed chèvre topped with a colorful mix of sweet-vs.-acidic cherry tomatoes. On another, it was sublime burrata crowned with squat cipollini onions, their sweetness tiptoeing against a tangy balsamic vinegar marinade. Fantastic.
Even better? A crazy-good chicken liver mousse, its luscious fattiness somewhat tamed by the delicate cucumber juice-based gelatin that caps each cute in-a-jar serving. Another winner is the hot, thin-skinned, fire-engine-red calabrian peppers, their brazen bite slightly muted by a filling of that same flavorful goat cheese.
A dozen or so well-sourced ham and salumi options accentuate pork’s remarkable versatility, and cheeses are chosen with care. In keeping with the bar’s emphasis on merry experimentation, all are available in single servings or sold in multi-choice platters.
Terzo leaves pizzas and flatbreads to others, instead concentrating on an impressive series of small plates.
A salad of poached shrimp, scallops and calamari gets its tangy punch from a 12-hour red wine vinegar marinade. Unabashedly juicy scallops get even better thanks to the unbeatable late-summer trio of corn, tomato and basil. Buffalo mozzarella tempers the smoky bitterness of grilled rapini, and enlisting octopus for a terrine yields striking results.