Philadelphia’s restaurants are poised to cook up a whole new menu of deliciousness in the coming year. With increased attention from national press and an influx of talent from other cities swooping in to join the scene, local eateries are becoming ever more cosmopolitan, seeking inspiration from influences as varied as Southern and Japanese cuisines while still maintaining the region’s rootsy culinary identity. Meanwhile, chefs are going deeper into DIY to make their own charcuterie and spirits and working to elevate vegan eating to the next level of sophistication. In all, these trends should make for a very tasty twelve months ahead.
It was only a matter of time, really, before out-of-town chefs caught on to the top-notch dining scene in Philadelphia, bolstered equally by Philly’s own big-time restaurateurs like Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and Marc Vetri, along with the concentrated talents of bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) chef-owners who have elevated the region’s collective palate with inventive cooking. Add in Philly’s high quality of life and (still) affordable real estate and the result is an influx of chef imports planning to set up shop in the area. Already in 2012, New Yorkers Kim and Joe Carroll opened Fette Sau barbecue, while a Berwyn native who worked in London, New York and Washington, DC debuted Brit-inspired bistro The Mildred. There was also the reinvention of Le Bec-Fin by a French Laundry vet. In 2013, Noord, a Dutch BYO from Chicago chef Joncarl Lachman, is slated to open on Tasker Avenue in East Passyunk. Also in Passyunk, one-time local chef Chris Lee will be developing a new concept where Salt and Pepper currently stands. Lee returns to the city after a highly touted stint in New York. Finally, Peter Serpico, of New York’s Momofuku fame, will be opening up an eponymously named eatery on South Street with the help of Stephen Starr.
Milk and Honey Market: Credit Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC
Nothing wrong with plattering up Parma ham and Spanish lomo, but the latest trend in Philly kitchens is do-it-yourself (DIY) sausages, terrines and pâtés. Meat eaters have already pounced on the German-style Wursthaus Schmitz in the Reading Terminal Market, a spinoff of South Street’s Brauhaus Schmitz, offering the restaurant’s acclaimed homemade sausages, salads, pretzels and sandwiches such as the Bavarian, complete with bauernwurst, horseradish mayo, Bavarian coleslaw and crispy fried onions. Fishtown’s French bistro The Pickled Heron smokes its own Armagnac sausages and bacon and cures its own duck prosciutto. At the newly opened Red Owl Tavern in Old City, the meaty offerings include a signature charcuterie plate, sausages and pickled lamb’s tongue. Meanwhile, at the Rittenhouse Tavern, one of the hottest menu items is chef Nicholas Elmi’s inventive terrine board.
Because not everyone indulges in charcuterie, a new vegan renaissance, inspired by last year’s openings of fine dining mecca Vedge and fast foodery HipCityVeg, is making it even easier to eat deliciously in Philadelphia without animal products. Miss Rachel’s Pantry’s casual café includes daily brunch with hearty-but-eggless entrees and, for more serious diners, a weekend farmhouse table prix-fixe meal. Vegan Tree offers easygoing, eclectic fare, including stir-fries and smoothies. In 2013, more chefs at mainstream restaurants and gastropubs will develop their own vegan creations as demand continues to grow.
2013 may well be the year of the noodle. After decades of a relatively ramen-free existence, Philly’s got a whole slew of new Japanese style joints: The past several months have seen the opening of Nom Nom Ramen in Rittenhouse Square, Market 16 Noodle Bar and Ramen Bar in University City, Hiro Ramen House in Washington Square and Terakawa Ramen in Chinatown. Each bring their own distinctive spins on the trend, offering quick and inexpensive eats to aspiring slurpers.
Southern Swing & Third-Wave Barbecue
The Mid-Atlantic region is poised for some deep-fried crunch with a spate of new Southern-style eateries. On the heels of 2012’s stylish Rex 1516, which offers contemporary spins on classics such as savory shrimp-stuffed beignets, pork chops over rosemary grits and curried collard greens, comes two more openings with sub-Mason-Dixon influences. The muffaletta-starved masses are welcoming a second location of Beck’s Cajun Café, a Reading Terminal Market gem, in 30th Street Station, and the Reading Terminal Market has likewise prepared for the arrival of Ms. Tootsie’s soul food stand, serving up chicken and waffles, candied yams and mac and cheese. Add in a swirl of fried chicken and biscuit dinners on menus around the city and the Southern trend seems to be catching on as surely as a pot of beans to a ham hock.
In the meantime, the local fervor for pit-smoked meats has been steadily growing for a decade now, with the first major wave coming in the early aughts (Sweet Lucy’s, Tommy Gunn’s), the second in 2009 (Percy Street Barbecue, Smokin’ Betty’s). Now, the third wave of barbecue joints brings a decidedly sophisticated, artisan sensibility to the picnic table. The Fishtown branch of Brooklyn’s hipster hangout Fette Sau serves up meat by the pound, along with German potato salad and half-sour pickles. Nearby, Bubba’s Texas BBQ is one Texan’s vision of a carnivorous heaven: custom smoker-cooked brisket, wings, ribs and bacon mac and cheese. At the tiny but cheerful Blue Belly BBQ in Bella Vista, the emphasis is on international selections: Korean beef, jerk chicken and Mexican lamb barbacoa, in addition to á la cart meats and sides. Next up to open is Rubb BBQ in Manayunk.
Locally Made Spirits
With so many inspired bartenders making craft cocktails in the area, Philly deserves some original spirits to call its own, and the local distilling industry, with established favorites like Bluecoat gin, Vieux Carre absinthe and Snap liqueur, is seeing a boom. The latest entrees to the bar are Art in the Age’s Sage liqueur, Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey (the first rye whiskey to be produced in Pennsylvania since Prohibition) and Pollyodd’s ’cellos (lemon, lime, orange and chocolate). Pollyodd even hopes to open its own retail outlet on Passyunk Avenue in 2013.
• Fette Sau, 1208 Frankford Avenue, (215) 391-4888, fettesauphilly.com
• The Mildred, 824 S. 8th Street, (267) 687-1600, the-mildred.com
• Le Bec-Fin, 1523 Walnut Street, (215) 567-1000, lebecfin.com
• Noord, 1046 Tasker Street
• Salt and Pepper, 1623 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 238-1920, saltandpepperphilly.com
• Serpico, 604 South Street
• Wursthaus Schmitz, Reading Terminal Market, 1100 Filbert Street, brauhausschmitz.com
• Brauhaus Schmitz, 718 South Street, (267) 909-8814, brauhausschmitz.com
• The Pickled Heron, 2218 Frankford Avenue, (215) 634-5666, thepickledheron.com
• Red Owl Tavern, 433 Chestnut Street, (215) 923-2267, redowltavern.com
• Rittenhouse Tavern, 251 S. 18th Street, (215) 732-2412, rittenhousetavern.com
• Vedge, 1221 Locust Street, (215) 320-7500, vedgerestaurant.com
• HipCityVeg, 127 S. 18th Street, (215) 278-7605, hipcityveg.com
• Miss Rachel’s Pantry, 1732 W. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 798-0053, missrachelspantry.com
• Vegan Tree, 742 South Street, (215) 454-2898
• Nom Nom Ramen, 20 S. 18th Street, (215) 988-0898, nomnomramen.com
• Market 16 Noodle Bar, 34th & Market Streets, drexelcampusdining.com
• Ramen Bar, 4040 Locust Street, (215) 243-9999, ramenbarphilly.com
• Hiro Ramen, 1102 Chestnut Street, (215) 939-5558, hiroramen.com
• Terakawa Ramen, 204 N. 9th Street, (267) 687-1355, terakawaramenphilly.com
Southern Swing & Third-Wave Barbecue:
• Rex 1516, 1516 South Street, (267) 319-1366, rex1516.com
• Beck’s Cajun Café, Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch Streets, (215) 592-0505; 2955 Market Street, (215) 382-2800, beckscajuncafe.com
• Ms. Tootsies, Reading Terminal Market, 12th & Arch Streets, kevenparker.net
• Sweet Lucy’s, 7500 State Road, (215) 333-9663, sweetlucys.com
• Tommy Gunn’s, 4901 Ridge Avenue, (215) 508-1030, tommygunns.net
• Percy Street Barbecue, 900 South Street, (215) 625-8510; 17th Street & John F. Kennedy Boulevard, (215) 964-9014, percystreet.com
• Smokin’ Betty’s, 116 S. 11th Street, (215) 922-6500, smokinbettys.com
• Fette Sau, 1208 Frankford Avenue, (215) 391-4888, fettesauphilly.com
• Bubba’s Texas BBQ, 19 W. Girard Avenue, (267) 324-3530, bubbastexasbbq.net
• Blue Belly Barbecue, 600 Catherine Street, (215) 238-0615, bluebellybbq.com
• Rubb BBQ, 4311 Main Street, (215) 482-9800, rubbphilly.com
Locally Made Spirits:
• Bluecoat, philadelphiadistilling.com
• Vieux Carre, philadelphiadistilling.com
• Snap, artintheage.com
• Pollyodd, 1908 E. Passyunk Avenue
• Art in the Age, artintheage.com
• Dad’s Hat, dadshatrye.com