Philadelphia and the Countryside - Press Room

Releases: Expanded View

Jun 9 2008

Philadelphia's Dining Scene: What's New And Trendy?

New Restaurants, Marketplace Lunch, Green Eats, Reopenings, Fresh Fast Food

More Than A Dozen New Restaurants On The Scene
Mediterranean cuisine takes center stage in Philly this summer with three new but very different restaurants. At Society Hill’s Zahav, one of the most anticipated local openings of the season, co-owners Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov (of Marigold Kitchen and Xochitl) have collaborated to create their third signature dining experience, starring Solomonov’s modern interpretations of Israeli food. Menu standouts include salmon skewers with pomegranate and couscous cooked over hot coals, crispy phyllo pie with rabbit and prunes and a “milk and honey” cocktail swirled with rum, date syrup and almond milk. Traditional Cypriot food is the focus at the intimate bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) Kanella (Greek for cinnamon), and chef/owner Konstantinos Pitsillides, of the now-shuttered Mezze, turns out grilled game meats, homemade sieftalia sausage and fried sweet dough. Circling similar gastronomic territory is the much more casual Hamifgash, a cash-only kosher eatery with Israeli salads and Turkish-inspired kebabs, plus mezze and schnitzel.

Center City East boasts two new eateries from seasoned restaurateurs. At Time—just around the corner from their wildly successful wine bar Vintage—Jason and Delphine Evenchik delve into old-school luxury eats like cote de boeuf, oysters Rockefeller and a long list of single-malt whiskeys. Also nearby is Les Bons Temps, a gracious multilevel townhouse serving up classic New Orleans cuisine (gumbo, crawfish etouffee), plus updated small plates like eggplant beignets, courtesy of John Mims, the chef/owner of Carmine’s Creole Café in Bryn Mawr.

Cajun/Creole eats seem to be making a revival in the region: The owners of Royersford’s French Quarter Bistro have doubled their holdings with Satchmo’s, a Cajun sandwich shop in Collegeville turning out bowls of steaming gumbo and gigantic po’boys stuffed with crawfish.

Sushi is, well, as hot as ever. Twinned restaurants Gaya and Asuka have set up shop in a newly rehabbed tavern in Blue Bell; the former serving sashimi and do-it-yourself Korean barbecue with all the fixins’ and the latter serving traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, tempura and sukiyaki. Harusame has taken over Ardmore’s strip mall spot Sapporo, and though the new owners continue to serve maki and sashimi they have expanded the offerings to include a full bar and steaming bowls of donburi.

Local chain offerings continue to grow more sophisticated, as in the sleek steakhouse Chima, the first regional outpost of a national chain specializing in authentic Brazilian rodizio, including 16 different cuts of grilled meat and a gigantic salad bar laden with carpaccios, rice and all manner of veggies. In Bensalem, the Jersey-based Toscana chain has built a stylishly upscale Tuscan eatery called Toscana 52, where the changing offerings include crudo (Italian sashimi), pastas and an expansive wine list.

Bar culture is also thriving. Fishtown has a new gastropub to call its own: Memphis Taproom trades in local brews and fun bar snacks like jalapeno corn dodgers, rarebit-fried egg sandwiches and vegan tempura butternut zucchini. The mixologists at Apothecary Bar + Lounge, a “bespoke cocktail” emporium, pour ingredients like honey liqueur, crème de violette and Echinacea tincture over the coldest cubes in the city. The kitchen serves light bites too.

More Than Just Lunch
When lunch is your only free hour, it’s time to do a little multitasking at one of the region’s markets/eateries. At their gorgeously modern Villanova complex Maia, brothers Terrence and Patrick Feury have created a café, market and restaurant with minimalist Northern European flair. Visitors can snack on tarte flambé, sip a house-infused juice or browse for fresh baked goods, craft beers and charcuterie. The Western Union Building is now home to the similarly hybrid Union Gourmet Market & Café, where the appealing café edibles include generous omelets, hearty sandwiches and espresso drinks, and the market features prepared salads, pizzas, artisanal cheese, coffee and chocolates. The Chestnut Street outpost of DiBruno Bros. is a gourmet mecca, abundantly stocked with specialty cheeses, meats, produce and pasta; upstairs diners can lunch on sandwiches, frittatas and pizza in the mini-food court area. At the historic Reading Terminal Market, the shopping is as dizzying as the eating possibilities, ranging from Pennsylvania Dutch ham loaf and freshly shucked oysters to soul food and pastrami sandwiches to cheesesteaks and Thai curry—and everything in between.

Greenest Eats
With so many green-minded businesses in Philadelphia, diners never have to choose between their ideals and their appetite. The most historic of the area’s green restaurants, White Dog Café has been serving free-range, grass-fed and locally grown meals to socially and environmentally conscious diners for decades. The cozy West Philly townhouse uses solar-heated water, recycles, composts and draws electricity from wind farms to produce its contemporary American fare. Onetime White Dog chef Kevin Klaus now runs his own restaurant, Farmicia, emphasizing local, organic and artisanal ingredients in dishes like pan-crisped wild Alaskan salmon with roasted beets, vegan anise and garlic tofu, which can all be washed down with organic wines. Located in The Westin Philadelphia hotel, Citygrange shows its dedication to sustainable food with farm-fresh salads, Lancaster County chicken potpie and mac made with four local cheeses.

With its two locations (in Fairmount and Manayunk), Mugshots Coffeehouse turns the triple bottom line into smart business: In addition to using renewable energy and recycling widely, the extremely popular spot also composts waste, supports local artisans and sells only farm-fresh products and fair trade coffee at its stores. A newcomer to the coffee scene, Center City’s Good Karma Café was built with sustainable materials, maintains an active recycling program and serves up fair-trade joe.

Take Two
Some of the newest restaurants this season are actually old ones, as summer marks the return of three classic Philly eateries. In Old City, Sassafras Café’s tin ceiling and eclectic eats were off-limits to diners during a brief period of changeover; new ownership has updated the interior but kept the menu’s greatest hits, such as lamb burgers, intact. The high-quality Chinese takeout Jin House was destroyed by fire five years ago—now, a brand-new incarnation on Locust Street is cooking up the ginger-scented dumplings and Moo Shu pork devotees dearly missed in its absence. Minar Palace, long regarded as the city’s best quick-service Indian restaurant, moved out of its Sansom Street digs three years ago. A new location at 13th and Walnut Streets means the cheap, fast chicken saag and lamb korma are back in circulation.

Faster and Better
Just because food is fast doesn’t mean it has to be mediocre. The quick-growing chain Five Guys Burgers and Fries has infiltrated the area with several locations (Center City, Bala Cynwyd, Broomall, Clifton Heights, Glen Mills, Warminster, Wayne and soon-to-open Doylestown). One bite of the Five Guys juicy burger and crisp hand-cut fries cooked to order explains its unstoppable success. New York chain Goodburger has opened its first area location in Center City, and word is spreading about the freshly ground beef burgers, organic chicken sandwiches and trans-fat-free fries. In an industrial corner of Gray’s Ferry, Moe’s Hot Dog House turns out fishcake sandwiches and the best dogs in town, topping them South Street- (coleslaw and chili) and Connie Mac-style (with mac and cheese). Newly installed in Manayunk, Cavo Crepe Café griddles paninis and crepes stuffed with untraditional fillings (Philly steak, Monterey ranch chicken) faster than its customers can say “Oui.”

Featured Chef: Mitch Prensky
After training at the French Culinary Institute and learning the ropes in New York City kitchens, Mitch Prensky settled in Philly a decade ago at which time he and his wife Jennifer opened their high-end catering business. The Global Dish attended to some of the chicest parties in town and operated L’Atelier, a roving invitation-only dinner party at unexpected venues. More recently, Prensky returned to the restaurant business with his widely lauded Supper, a two-story wood-and-glass urban farmhouse on South Street. Here, Prensky serves European-inflected contemporary American fare like baguettes slathered with foie gras and onion marmalade, oysters cooked with pumpkin butter and roasted leg of wild boar with spring vegetables. On the first Sunday of the month, diners can bring wine and gather for a one-seating family-style meal.

Featured Neighborhood: East Passyunk
Few neighborhoods claim a dining scene as richly vibrant as East Passyunk. Back in the early 20th century, the diagonal street reflected the eating habits of its Italian immigrant population. Opened in 1927, family-owned Marra’s is one of the surviving restaurants from that era and the checker-tiled pizzeria is still one of the finest places for an authentic pescatore (seafood) pie or homemade gnocchi. Loaded with old-school charm, the BYOB hideaway Mr. Martino’s Trattoria plates up homey Italian classics like veal tortellini and sausage over polenta. By day, the retro Roselena’s serves salads, sandwiches, pastry and Passyunk s’mores. By night, visitors can sample the Abruzzi-style crepes in chicken soup or the pork chop with broccoli rabe. The unfussy BYO Tre Scalini opened 13 years ago (and has since moved to its Passyunk Avenue locale), garnering accolades for its spaghetti alla chitarra and squid-ink pappardelle with seafood.

Passyunk has also welcomed a new generation of upscale eateries, like the elegant Paradiso Restaurant & Wine Bar, which serves arancini in basil oil, braised lamb shank with caramelized onion torte and flourless chocolate cake with blood orange reduction. Over the past year, the Abruzzo-centric kitchen at Le Virtu has attracted diners with its sunny, rustic interior and divine cocoa ravioli stuffed with braised rabbit and topped with amaretti cookie crumbs.

The neighborhood has diversified further still with the lively Cantina Los Caballitos, a hip Mexi-bar that satisfies its young crowd with blood orange margaritas, fish tacos and seitan fajitas. More traditional Mexican fare like pork and pineapple tacos and chicken mole can be had at the bare-bones tacqueria El Zarape across the street.

ADDRESS BOOK

New On The Scene:

More Than Just Lunch:

Greenest Eats:

Take Two:

  • Sassafras Café, 48 S. 2nd Street, (215) 925-2317
  • Jin House, 1117 Locust Street, (215) 592-9500
  • Minar Palace, 1304 Walnut Street, (215) 546-9443

Fast and Faster:

Featured Chef:

Featured Neighborhood:

  • Marra’s, 1734 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 463-9249, www.marras1.com
  • Mr. Martino’s Trattoria, 1646 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 755-0663
  • Roselena’s, 1623-5 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 755-9697
  • Tre Scalini, 1915 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 551-3870
  • Paradiso Restaurant & Wine Bar, 1627 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 271-2066, www.paradisophilly.com
  • Le Virtu, 1927 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 271-5626, www.levirtu.com
  • Cantina Los Caballitos, 1651 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 755-3550
  • El Zarape, 1648 E. Passyunk Avenue, (215) 336-1293

The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases business and promotes the region’s vitality. For more information about travel to Philadelphia, visit www.gophila.com or call the Independence Visitor Center, located in Independence National Historical Park, at (800) 537-7676.

Contact(s):
  • E-mail

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