Nestled into the ground floor of a South Philly rowhome, Roxanne BYOB is the latest entry in Philadelphia’s flourishing crop of restaurants serving laid-back tasting menus.
Chef Alexandra Holt’s restaurant, located in the former Sabrina’s Cafe space near the Italian Market, offers playfully plated courses that walk the line between “fine dining” and “fun dining.”
Holt trained at the Culinary Institute of America before working under Michelin-starred chefs in Germany, and in stateside kitchens from Chicago to DC. Her lively six-course tasting menu, which runs $75 per person, changes weekly, but you can expect a few constants: lots of sauces and meats, a heavy emphasis on dessert, and Holt’s personality emanating from each dish — with decor to match.
Why might Roxanne be worth a visit? Read on for details.
What makes it special
With only 26 seats, eating at Roxanne feels less like dining at a restaurant and more like attending a private dinner party.
A gallery of framed Etsy prints hangs on the wall, there’s a floor-to-ceiling shelf of cookbooks, and the space is painted bright lavender. Holt’s presence infuses the meal metaphorically through these choices, but also literally — you can watch her put the finishing touches on dishes through a large window connecting the kitchen and dining room.
Interior design aside, what really makes Roxanne special is the way Holt plays with food.
On the night Billy Penn sat down for a tasting, the first course was a honey squash hash, draped in a piece of salami, and adorned with a lopsided smile (Holt later referred to this “Meat face” on Instagram).
That set the tone for the meal, which was full of on-the-nose jokes and unorthodox pairings. The second course, the “Tongue and Cheek Tartine” was a riff on Philly’s classic pulled pork sandwich, set on a homemade poppy seed bread smothered in American cheese made from scratch. The closing dish was an ice cream sundae covered in a chewy caramel sauce and black olives, a surprisingly welcome bite.
How it came to be
Holt moved to Philadelphia during the pandemic to work as a sous chef in Old City before opening a pop-up pastry business called Pastry Slut.
About a year after Sabrina’s Cafe closed its South Philly location, Holt slid in to begin building Roxanne, which she named after her mother. Starting in March, she did all of the painting and interior work at the 872-sq.-ft. space on her own — including the chairs, which Holt constructed herself.
Holt is the only chef currently working the kitchen, so Roxanne opens for dinner just a few days a week, though the plan is to extend hours and seatings after making additional hires. In the vein of Holt’s popular pop-up, the restaurant will eventually also sling French-inspired pastries, available during the day.
What it means for the neighborhood
At 912 Christian St., Roxanne takes up half of the space brunch fave Sabrina’s occupied for 20 years.
It’s easy to compare the restaurant to Amanda Shulman’s highly acclaimed Her Place Supper Club in Rittenhouse. Both offer $75 prix-fixe menus and are led by young, ambitious chefs that don’t apologize for the femininity that shines through in their design and decor.
A block from the top of the Italian Market, Roxanne brings that kind of small-plate fine dining to the neighborhood, adding to the corridor’s diverse array of options, which range from elegant Mexican restaurants to pho houses to Middle Eastern specialists to century-old red-sauce Italian dining rooms.
What to expect when you go
Holt likes to say Roxanne “favors all adventurous eaters.” Because she is alone in the kitchen, she doesn’t accommodate food allergies or diet restrictions the way a fully-staffed restaurant can.
The menu takes inspiration from locally available meats and produce, and changes often. There are some week-to-week staples: some kind of potato — Holt’s favorite food — and two dessert courses.
Billy Penn’s tasting included a crumbly parfait with tart sorbet and a goat milk mousse, followed by a banana-cornmeal ice cream sundae dusted in coconut flakes.
It’s easy to feel at home at Roxanne, even if you don’t have a say in the menu. Diners can leave song requests to accompany their meal, which play from an Amazon dot on a window sill.
The bathroom at Roxanne is also not to be missed, or more specifically, the wall leading there. Miniature stuffed animals line the hallway going back to the bathroom, an essential photo-op before you head out at the end of the night.
Roxanne is currently open 5:30-8:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, with limited pop-up hours for individual pastry service, and reservations are available online. You can follow @roxanne_philly for the latest updates.