Diners and bar-goers enjoy the casually elegant atmosphere at Ellen Yin’s Fork. The restaurant credited with Old City’s restaurant revival in the 1990s serves delicious New American dishes created with local ingredients.
J. Fusco for GPTMC
No, you didn’t read that headline incorrectly. There is not only a restaurant “scene” in Philadelphia, but it is, as they say, “smoking.’ ” Over the last few years, there’s been a tremendous upswing in the number of young, creative chefs flocking to our city. Here are a few options to nourish your body after the scientific sessions nourish your mind.
My current favorite is Greg Vernick’s Vernick Food and Drink, selected by the Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic, Craig LaBan, as the “Best New Restaurant of 2013.” You can customize your meal by choosing an array of small plates, ordering the standard three-course dinner, or mixing and matching. Almost everything is terrific, but especially the toasts with all sorts of toppings.
Another mouth-watering option is The Farm and Fisherman, a wonderful, unpretentious BYOB spot, with award-winning Josh Lawler at the helm. The menu is small, but terrifically focused, and anything with beets is a winner. The sweetbreads, the duck confit, the pork, and whatever fish Josh is doing are definitely worth ordering. Perhaps the most winsome thing about Farm is the ambience created by the welcoming staff.
Another top spot on your “must try” list is Talula’s Garden. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful spaces in town, the menu and service are first rate, and its patio is the most romantic in the city.
Fond, in South Philly, is very similar to Farm, and it used to be a BYOB too, but now it has a full bar and cocktail “program.” Outstanding selections include foie gras and sweetbreads, among many others.
Two other top picks are Sbraga and Fork. Sbraga, with another award winner at the stove, has an extremely reasonable prix-fixe menu at $49 for four courses, with $35 for the beverage pairing. For entrees, you can sample roast pork with provolone bread pudding and long hots—a take on the Philly roast pork sandwich—or Tennessee hot chicken—a take on Nashville’s hot chicken—among others. The venerable Fork has made quite a comeback. The room has always been one of the best dining spaces in town, and now new chef Eli Kulp has returned excitement to a dining destination that had begun to fade. I was in the restaurant shortly after Kulp arrived—the vibe was electric and the food outstanding. The waiters have always been consummate professionals with outstanding advice, and they don’t introduce themselves by name—a plus in my book!
I haven’t mentioned the currently most lauded BYOB—Bibou. It has gotten a rave review by the Inquirer, and it’s hard to find anyone saying anything negative about it. Go, if you can get in, and see what all the fuss is about.
Among other top picks are Barbuzzo and Jamonera—the twin jewels of the Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran empire at the corner of 13th and Sansom. The former does a fabulous job with its Italian-focused menu, and the latter deserves kudos for its interpretation of Spanish cuisine. Speaking of Italian and Spanish, Mark Vetri’s Osteria is still superb, and his Amis is certainly good, but it’s not as good or creative as Barbuzzo.
For Israeli cuisine, try Zahav, with its fabulous hummus selection—it’ll make you rethink all the mediocre hummus you’ve had in the past—and the over-the-top grilled duck hearts that’ll make you look at those creatures in a new light.
Rob Halpern is probably our top practitioner of molecular gastronomy at his underrated BYO restaurant Marigold Kitchen in West Philly. It’s well worth a try, and it’s crazy reasonable.
More casual choices include Brauhaus Schmitz—a, what else, German brewhouse—and Percy Street Barbecue with pretty good Texas barbecue. If you go to the Reading Terminal, you must eat at DiNic’s, whose roast pork was christened the “Best Sandwich in America.” I know people who have come here for conventions and eaten at DiNic’s every day while in town. Order it with provolone and broccoli rabe, and let the juices soak into the bread before you take your first bite.
These ideas ought to keep you happily wined and dined during your stay here. I hope they will whet your appetite for a return visit. ■