In the heart of Washington Square West, where 10th Street and Spruce Street kiss, an unassuming corner lot peeks into the wonderful world of Greek and Cypriot cuisine. This is Kanella Grill—one crosswalk away from an antique shop, one hemisphere away from its Mediterranean roots. An aquamarine hamsa hangs by the doorway, and it reads: “May / This Place / Be blessed / With happiness / Fortune & success.”
It’s chilly inside, and empty, too. Despite it being 1 p.m. on a Saturday, the cozy rectangular space is largely devoid of patrons, save for one mother–daughter duo nearing the end of their meal. We settle into a table by the windows.
There’s something slightly mismatched about the stone–tiled floor, red brick wall, wood–planked seats, and white plaster ceiling; but it feels more homey than kitschy, thematically tied together by the maps of Cyprus that adorn the length of the restaurant. We order the Dips of the Day ($10), Malawah ($12), the signature Kanella Platter with Falafel ($15), and two juices ($4 each)—cucumber and watermelon. The drinks arrive first; the cucumber juice goes down like lemonade, and the watermelon juice froths with hints of mint. They’re so refreshing it’s almost blasphemous. The rest of the dishes, arranged on white–lipped plates, arrive in quick succession.
The Dips of the Day squeezes pita triangles between three mounds of dip. There’s the skordalia, which looks and tastes like mashed potato except deliciously tangy, thanks to the lemon juice and fresh garlic. There’s the htipiti, a mouthwatering Greek salsa of feta cheese and roasted pepper. Finally, the fava, a golden split pea puree that is sure to delight split pea lovers, but unfortunately not me (I am no lover of split pea).
The Kanella Platter is a gorgeous assortment of pita pockets, hummus, cucumber salad, olives, black eyed peas, and three falafels. As beautiful as the spread may be, a few aspects fall short. The black eyed peas are undercooked, the pita is depressingly non–fluffy; I try two olives and leave the rest.
These slight missteps are by no means damning. The falafel, dabbed with aioli and sprinkled with herbs and red spice, is mealy and warm. The hummus, despite its paleness, rocks with flavor too. The sleeper hit of the platter has got to be the Greek cucumber salad, whose acidity and freshness makes you never want to underestimate vegetables ever again.
A few more groups filter into Kanella, and the space feels just a bit homier. Three 20–something–year–olds bedecked in denim chat about genetic testing, children, and where to get the best sushi burritos in Philadelphia. An older couple share a plate two tables further.
Greek folk music twangs in the background—light, summery, and subtly sweet, just like the malawah. The Yemeni puff pastry flakes like baklava and is accompanied by a spicy tomato slaw, boiled egg halves, and salted yogurt. The waiter recommends it with a drizzle of honey. The dish is a dream. Savory when combined with its sides, dessert–like on its own; versatile in any configuration.
Kanella Grill sings leisure. The food is made to be relished, the drinks made to be sipped. Here, meals are made to refresh the soul, and life is a slow stroll. It is, at once, both a glimpse of Greece and a sweet yet understated neighborhood eatery in Philadelphia.
TL;DR: Hummus Grill, elevated.
Location: 1001 Spruce St.
Mon–Sun: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.