Did We Create This Culinary Monster?

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what kind of restaurant town we really want to be. In the Philadelphia magazine that’s on the stands right now, I’ve got an essay asking what it means to our restaurant scene when being merely great is no longer a guarantee of success. We’ve been writing an awful lot about VolverJose Garces‘s new high-stakes (and high price) gamble at the Kimmel Center which now stands as the most expensive dinner in town by a long stretch. And as we all know by now, between knee-capping reviews from both Craig Laban and our own Trey Popp, and a whole lot of people on the streets wondering if the storied Walnut Street address might be better off if it was just turned into a Jamba Juice and ignored until all the ghosts of Le Bec-Fin have departed, Avance is having itself a very rough month.

And now, with all this in mind, I just ran across this essay over at Esquire’s “Eat Like A Man” blog which essentially lays the blame for every modern sin in restaurant-dom squarely at our feet.

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Burger Porn From Rex 1516

QuesoBurgerRexSo you guys know that chef Justin Swain at Rex 1516 does a different custom burger every week, right? He announces it on Tuesdays on Twitter, runs it as a special on Tuesday and Wednesday night, then moves onto something new for next week. He’s been doing it for some time now, but for whatever reason (possibly the bacon and queso) this week’s “In Queso Emergency” burger caught my eye and made me very, very hungry.

For those of you who are into it, it’ll be on the menu tonight in all it’s bacon-y and cheese-y glory. You can get it as part of the  Citywide burger promo–meaning the burger, a pint of Newbold and a shot of Buffalo Trace bourbon can all be yours for just $15.

Rex 1516 [f8b8z]

A whole bunch more burger shots [Instagram]

Where We’re Eating: Vernick Food + Drink

Photo by Karrisa Olsen

Photo by Karrisa Olsen

I can remember, a long time ago, back when Greg Vernick was first opening his eponymous restaurant on Walnut Street and the early reviews were just coming in, talking with my food-nerd friends about the place—about how good it already was, and the weird feeling we all had that it somehow had the potential to get even better. Now, two years in, it seems to have arrived. The menu, with its oysters and small plates, simply roasted fish and chicken and brilliant toasts, is solid and welcoming and comforting while at the same time inventive enough to never be dull. The short cocktail program is well thought-out, and the service has mellowed and relaxed into a perfect upscale-neighborhood-restaurant model, with easy smiles all around. While there have been some complaints that the menu doesn’t change often enough, the benefit of this (relative) stability has been a crew brought up on consistency and attention to detail, which shows through on every single plate.

Vernick Food + Drink [Foobooz]

Is There A Wegmans Coming To Center City?


And wait, before you say anything, go check out the legwork just done over on the Property blog. They’re trying to get to the bottom of this story, and while it appears that the whole Wegmans-in-Center-City thing is one of those rumors that just won’t die, there may be some truth to it. Or if not truth, then certainly the possibility of truth. Or, you know, something…

Anyway, go check it out. Because while a Wegmans would be an (arguably) awesome addition to Center City, the one thing we know for sure is that it’s going to take some time.

So What’s All This About a Wegmans Coming To Center City? [Property]

Happy National Session Beer Day


Yes, today really is National Session Beer Day (it’s also just plain ol’ National Beer Day), and you should really get out there to celebrate.

In order to facilitate said celebrations, three bars in town are offering $1 off all session beers (meaning any beer with less than 4.5% ABV). Head out tonight to drink at Devil’s Den, Barren Hill Tavern or the Old Eagle Tavern and you’ll get a buck off a bunch of different Barren Hill session beers that they’re putting on tap (Drunk Monk, Bitter Chef, Berliner and more).

Devil’s Den [Official]
Barren Hill Tavern [Official]
Old Eagle Tavern [Official]

Sneak Preview: May Classes At COOK


A first chance to taste the menu at George Sabatino‘s upcoming Aldine, fancy sugar cookies, a night of Italian wine and food with Joe Cicala from Le Virtu, a chance to see what Jeremy Nolen is cooking up for his new American restaurant, Whetstone, AND another installment of our drunken culinary showdown series, Foobooz Open Stove? Those are just a few of the classes COOK has on the books for May, and tickets to all of them are going on sale tomorrow at 2pm.

So you know what to do. Check out the sneak peek of all the available classes below. Plan your attack. And then be at the COOK website right at 2pm to make sure you get the classes you want.

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Fast Casual Pizza Coming To Ardmore


The fast casual / QSR model has done wonders for burritos thanks to Chipotle. Places like HipCityVeg adjusted the model to work for healthy salads. There are other operations that do noodles, wraps, sandwiches and more.

But for a long time, one of the holy grails of the QSR industry has been the fast casual pizza–offering customers a fully-customizable pie in a Chipotle-style counter service setting. And while no one has managed to pull this off yet, it looks like a new restaurant opening in Ardmore (in the former home of Peace A Pizza at 4 Station Road) is going to be the first to take a swing.

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Two Bells For Avance


We’ve been waiting a while for Craig Laban to weigh in on Avance, and now that he has, we’re guessing that the crew in the kitchen and on the floor probably wishes he’d waited a little longer. In a review that read even harsher than the two bell ranking Avance scored, Laban calls out problems almost everywhere–with the notable exception of the downstairs bar.

When we stepped up for the full $138 chef’s tasting two weeks later, though, Avance wasn’t yet ready for its training wheels to come off. The excellent house-baked breads (smoked wheatberry, Armenian rye) became a tasting of one cold roll after another (save for scorched brioche with the foie gras.) Servers hovered, popping over to answer eavesdropped questions that hadn’t actually been asked. Cherniavsky’s by-the-glass pairings were mixed, scoring with a fleshy Greco from Basilicata to start, an Angerer Grüner for the tartare, and a Florido Moscatel sherry for the custardy frozen foie gras, but stumbling over reds, with an $18 just-opened 2001 Crozes-Hermitage that needed more time to open up and a funky South African cab franc blend that was just off.

Two Bells — Very Good

Avance Has A Way To Go To Live Up To Its Address [Philadelphia Inquirer]
All Avance coverage [f8b8z]

Gastronaut: Best of the Best (of the Best)

gastronaut-kagan-mcleod-042014I have absolutely no reason to eat at Dandelion anymore.

I mean, I have plenty of reasons: I like it there, there’s always a seat at the bar, generally a table is available. It’s close to my office. Its new chef is doing an admirable job. I like the beers on its list, and the menu is just deep enough that there’s always something on it I want to eat right then. As far as neighborhood restaurants go, Dandelion has everything I want, which is why I find myself there a lot. Yet I really have no reason to go there anymore.

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