There used to be more places like Bomb Bomb in South Philly – there was the South Philly Grille at 12th & Mercy Streets (near Snyder), Sam's Cobblestone, the Royal Villa – corner bars in the front with dining rooms in the back, serving up red-gravy Italian like mussels (red or white) and whatever parmagiana. Though a lot of these places have disappeared, from the looks of the Saturday night crowd absolutely packing the small place, the Bomb is still thriving. Part of the appeal might be that Bomb Bomb puts a twist on the gravy bar institution by offering BBQ ribs along with the Italian fare.
So after 45 minutes or so waiting in the tiny bar area, we were seated in the small dining room, which has maybe 7 or 8 tables. The atmosphere is cozy and homey, with guys like Frank, Perry and Dean playing from the speakers, and a statue of Groucho Marx perched on the toilet tank in the restroom. The menu is right on target for this kind of place: there's ravioli, gnocchi, mussels, the parmagianas of all kinds, and various configurations of seafood with spaghetti. And then, the ribs. Our dining companions both got half-racks of ribs, I got the ribs and chicken combo, and Lauren had the eggplant parmagiana.
The eggplant was prepared in a way that showed admirable restraint. Cut thin and lengthwise, it wasn't oversauced and cheesed into submission like a casserole, but rather breaded, fried till crisp (but not greasy), and topped with just enough sauce and mozzarella to make it satisfying but not overwhelming. The side of spaghetti was cooked nicely al dente and made me consider a pasta dish for my next visit.
Now, the ribs ... I'm not an expert on the subject, but I think that barbecue purists might want to order something else, or at least suspend their uppityness for the night. These are not your smoked-all-day, dry-rubbed style ribs. They're remarkably tender baby backs, copiously sauced with a sweet and spicy concoction, then finished on the grill, where the sugars in the sauce char and blacken in spots. Cliched as it may be to say, the meat really does fall off the bone, and we were hungry enough that they disappeared pretty fast (along with the salt-and-pepper fries served alongside them). If you're coming with a group, someone ought to order them so you can at least give them a try. The chicken, by comparison, was a little disappointing; a tad overcooked and dry. Stick to the ribs if it's BBQ you're after.
Service was extremely friendly and our waitress certainly was a character. Overall the atmosphere is very laid-back, friendly and welcoming. It's easy to see why the Bomb Bomb is still going strong when some of its comrades have fizzled out. Here's hoping business keeps booming. Sorry.